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Gandhi Was Wrong

Written by Brandon.D.Rhodes : July 28, 2008

During his long resistance to the British empire, Mohandas Gandhi gave the world one of the most widely known quotes of twentieth-century politics: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  If you want a world without war, stop fighting wars.  It is, to be highfalutin about it, something of a teleological moral argument: Imagine a world set aright, and stubbornly live that. And from where else is that moral vision projected, according to this sagely adage, but from each of our hearts.  We craft and project the image of the moral vision that we then hold ourselves to embody.  More on that later.

Gandhi’s elegant wisdom has been cherished by millions the world over for its austere capacity to summarize their own moral vision.  Radicals and anti-statists from all over the political spectrum have cherished Gandhi’s pithy commendation that the best kind of politic is an embodied politic.  “Don’t just vote for change: be the change” is how many hear it.  I imagine that many in the community here at Jesus Manifesto, not least myself, takes considerable encouragement from that kind of moral vision.

How apt, though, that in the highly fragmented culture of the West we should so love this quote — it piously endorses my moral vision — “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  The locus of the vision for this embodied politic is me.  It fits part-and-parcel into the most dangerous elements of western individualism, those which say, “Each of us must chart out our own ethical destiny, and so long as you are being real and true and authentic to that, then it’s all good.  Find your own path and be true to it.  Just don’t be a hypocrite.”

The moral vision of the New Testament, and indeed the entire Bible, is very close to that of India’s Bapu, but also crucially different.  The church’s moral vision is, most properly, to “Be the change God will eventually make in the world.“  God, not any one of us, is the projector of the moral vision of a world set aright that we are called move toward and to embody.  In the parlance of the Lord, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”.  The church is the community whose life of love, holiness, and justice is a foretaste of God’s future for the world.  Paul uses a word for the Holy Spirit in His church that in modern Greek means engagement ring, the guaranteeing bond of the matrimonial bliss that is to come.

On what grounds does the New Testament make such audacious claims?  First-century Judaism was a diverse thing, but a common element of its narrative and worldview for most Jews was the dividing of history between the present evil age and the Age to Come.  As things stood, Israel and the whole world were in a sort of exile: stuck under the powers, sin, and death, estranged from God.  Pagans ran things and the world was dark indeed.  Yet they endured, holding out in faith that the the Creator God would be just in the end, and somehow deal with all this.  So their hopes were a loosely tangled mesh of ideas:

  • forgiveness of Israel’s sins, leading to
  • the end of Israel’s exile, which might somehow eventually lead to
  • the end of the world’s exile from God;
  • the end of the present evil age and the arrival of the Age to Come.
  • death will be swallowed up and the dead raised,
  • the rebuilding of the Temple,
  • the sending of the Messiah to overcome the enemies of God,
  • a Davidic king,
  • the kingdom of God himself,
  • a new covenant,
  • the Holy Spirit being poured out,
  • giving of hearts of flesh instead of hearts of stone,
  • a new heavens and new earth (new creation),
  • the justice and righteousness and peace of God being established worldwide.

This list is not comprehensive, nor are its entries discrete from one another.  Some held on to a few of these, but not all.  But when the New Testament invokes one of them, it assumes this wider net of hopes that God is accomplishing in Jesus for Israel and the world.  They didn’t know if it would all happen at once, or if it would happen in stages.  Near as we can tell, there just weren’t too many dispensationalism-style charts for their hoped-for “end times.”  Should such a chart have existed, we might diagram it like this:

The turn of the ages, in the worldview of Jesus’ contemporaries, will be a largely discrete event: the old things will pass away and new creation will begin.  There’s no hard and fast science to this, but roughly, when someone talks about “the kingdom of God”, it would have been assumed by most Jews that they are talking about life on the other side of this epic shift, about life in God’s new age.

When Jesus arrives on the scene, he does just this.  He announces the kingdom of God arriving at last, that sins are being forgiven and the exile is ending.  He’s invoking this huge net of hopes, and spinning them into some unexpected ways.  Jesus talks about what we translate as “eternal life”, which literally is “the life of the age of ages.”  Biblical scholars agree that a fair, and indeed probably better, translation for this Greek is not “eternal life” but “the life of the Age to Come.”  In its last line the Nicene Creed calls it “the life of the world to come.”  It is the life of the change that God will one day make in the world.  Or, more properly, that He is already making in the world among those who know him!

Those who know and follow and pledge allegiance to Jesus, then have the life of the Age to Come.  By grace we have and are God’s firstfruits of what is coming.  We are gifted with it and tasked with this life of the new age, of God’s future and dream for his world.  The Age to Come has begun in the person of Jesus, and continues in the life of his church.  Hence Paul can say that “If anyone is in Christ, new creation!”  When we confess to having eternal life, as in John 3:16 for example, we don’t just mean “a personal relationship with Jesus” or that we will live forever in the resurrection, true though both of those are!  No: our hope is as deep as the first and long as the second, but as wide as the moral vision of a world set aright: the Age to Come, New Creation, the Kingdom of God!

Though many of these hopes have been launched in a kind of mustard-seed way, the world is still full of injustice and death and sin and sorrow.  Sometimes it can feel pretty damn hard to believe that the world is a different place, that the Age to Come is anywhere near!  We are stuck in the overlap of the ages.  Thus many diagram the Christian understanding of the ages as:

This is the moral vision of the New Testament: we are called to, as N.T. Wright says, implement God’s accomplishment in Jesus and thereby anticipate new creation.  In his Simply Christian, Wright says that:

The Spirit is given to begin the work of making God’s future real in the present.  That is the first, and perhaps the most important, point to grasp about the work of this strange prsonal power for which so many images are used.  Just as the resurrection of Jesus opened up the unexpected world of God’s new creation, so the Spirit comes to us from that new world, the world waiting to be born, the world in which, according to the old prophets, peace and justice will flourish and the wolf and the lamb will lie down side by side.  One key element of living as a Christian is learning to live with the life, and by the rules, of God’s future world, even as we are continuing to live within the present one” (p. 124).

We are no longer slaves of the old world, but citizens of God’s new world.  This is the ancient inner logic behind that oft-bandied adage “already/not-yet” for understanding passages about the kingdom of God.  It’s been inaugurated, and new creation is on the loose, but its fullness and consummation are yet to come.

Our moral life and vision, then, is as Wright said, to live according to the rules of that inbreaking world.  That world is, plainly enough, a world of peace, where swords are beat into plowshares and war isn’t studied.  It’s a world of forgiveness and full of the just love and loving justice of YHWH.  Now, most Christians will go this far, and agree that we live by the power of that age, and enjoy many of the gifts and beauties of it.  But to leap from those warm-fuzzy existential splendors, to what kind of shape those splendors are meant to take, is a challenging leap indeed.  So often we only want to receive the change God is making in the world, but not embody it.

Such a logic of being the change God will make in the world, though, was just beneath the surface of Paul’s moral imagination.  He saw dimly through the glass of prophetic promises about the Age to Come (Isaiah 2, 40, 66, etc.) and let the light of that day project through the prism of the risen Jesus, the image and the form for his own moral vision of a world and a humanity set aright.  He knew that he was in the overlap of the ages, and therefore, in a sense, “what time it was”.  He spells it out that explicitly in Romans 13:11-14:

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.  The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

He is calling us to live in God’s daylight, as children of the inbreaking world of shalom.  The old age, the nighttime, is on its way out, and all of its “exquisite shit of glory” (hat tip, Gabriel García Márquez) is no longer the stuff of the kingdom-pledging community.  Feel the freedom and the warmth and the beautiful tasks of this situation: we are all richly renewed by the dawn of God’s peaceable new age!

This provides a massive, and massively underused, narrative apologetic for Christian nonviolence.  We are to be nonviolent because the truly human being, Jesus our King, was — yes, true enough. And we are to be nonviolent because it doesn’t get the world much of anywhere — sure.  Oh, and yes, we should be nonviolent because God loves his enemies — Jesus used that one! But all of these can and should snap nicely into place within this bigger framework of the passing darkness of the evil age, and the inbreaking light of the Age to Come given us by Jesus.  We are peaceful because the age of shalom is here.  The dread weapon of the old age, Death, is beat.  Why live on its terms any longer?  The day is here.  “Come, O House of Israel, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

Gandhi’s adage is meant to hold us fast to pacifism.  Our modification of it provides a far richer, God-projected, less individualistic, and more exciting story to likewise bind us close to the peaceful heart and world of God.  May that peace enrich and energize us all to a more radical faith.

Further reading: G.E. Ladd, The Presence of the Future; N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, Simply Christian, The Resurrection of the Son of God; A.M. Wakabayashi, Kingdom Come.

Brandon Rhodes lives, works, writes, and worships in Portland, Oregon. He enjoys long conversations over coffee, yerba maté, and beer. He is also one of the co-editors at Jesus Manifesto.


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Comments

Viewing 35 Comments

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    I knew this sounded Brandon-ish when I hit the 'highfalutin'...
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    Great summary Brandon, and a nice combination of the eschatological and -- with the Márquez quote -- scatological.
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    Great thoughts, Brandon. I came over on the link from iMonk and enjoyed your post. I've been reading N.T. Wright and definitely agree with where you ended up. However, I would ask a question about your analysis of Ghandi. When Ghandi calls the Dalits and the masses of British colonial India to be the change that they want to see, he was speaking to a terribly oppressed and dehumanized people. He was not speaking in a Western individualistic context. Because of this, he called them to be human. They were not victims of an oppressor, but rather, they could enact change by living it out, not by grasping power.

    Of course, the Christians of India believe that Ghandi was not true to his own ideals because he never left Hinduism. Hinduism continued to dehumanize according to caste making Ghandi's ultimate desires impossible. This is where it would have been much better to work from a Kingdom perspective provided by Christianity. So, I agree with what you are saying but just look at Ghandi's call a little differently based on his context.
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    Jarrod Saul McKenna 2 months ago
    G'day Brandon, good job mate, like the provocative title. I’ve reposted your article here:
    http://paceebene.org/blog/jarrod-mckenna/gandhi...

    I’ve got a workshop that is really close to what you’ve been writing!! Spooky! (Not that spooky considering the shared influences.) The way we put it is “equipping a generation to ‘walk-out’ now what God wills the world to be”. :)

    Hey if you’re interested here is my series on Gandhi that I did last year:
    http://paceebene.org/blog/jarrod-mckenna/gandhi...

    grace and peace for the journey of walking the world to come out now,
    jarrod
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    Simon (friend of Jarrod) 2 months ago
    Hmm...yes, AND...

    Gandhi's nonviolence (satyagraha, or holding onto truth) was based in the idea that ultimately love and truth IS God. I think to wedge him as being individualistic or having "his own" moral vision is therefore unfair. That's part of why nonviolence was so important - because it is a way of arriving at truth (or closer to it), and potentially discovering that the truth to which you hold/grasp is actually untruth and needs to be let go of. Truth (God) was therefore seen as something outside of himself (AND inside himself) which he arrived at through nonviolence because it's always possible that your opponent has the truth and you have the untruth ("everyone has a piece of the truth and the untruth...") Hence "be the change _you_ wish to see" - because if you go about it nonviolently you'll eventually arrive discover whether "the change you wish to see" is the truth (ie. God) or not.

    It was therefore not merely "his" moral vision at all, but the vision of truth and love, which Gandhi would call God, that Gandhi sought - hence the subtitle of his autobiography "the stories of my experiments with truth".

    That activists and others have twisted it to their own devices is, I think, not to be attributed to Gandhi, nor is it surprising.

    So my sense (I could be wrong - is this my piece of the truth or the untruth? ;)) is that Gandhi wouldn't be particularly bothered by your modification of it, as it's using different language to describe the same thing...and that to wedge him towards an individualistic interpretation of that particular statement and away from God's-vision is to take the rest of his work out of context.
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    I don't take Brandon to mean that Gandhi's own moral vision was individualistic. Rather, our western filter renders it so.
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    I sincerely hope you're right there, MarkVanS. If he is indeed saying that Gandhi was wrong (as this article's title suggests) then I would posit that Brandon has misread Gandhi in a similar way to the misreadings of Jesus effected by Western Christianity over the centuries - by decontextualising him.

    A contextual Gandhi is, as Simon says, trying to counterbalance a lowest-common-denominator passivity that waits for god/God/YHWH to effect 'the change' rather than going ahead and participating the change. I recently heard a discussion on the UK's BBC Radio 4 programme 'Beyond Belief' suggesting just that - in precis, the Church's duty was not to be just another NGO but was to pray for divine mercy, which is true but mere prayer is not much use to the malnourished and diseased, who rather need those who will instantiate divine mercy with food, medicines, aid, (fair) trade, policy, diplomacy, peacemaking, etc., etc.

    I would argue what is needed is a zen-like balance between competing perspectives on the same question …

    One direction of view is that we must understand the change god/God would make (has already made in Jesus' life-death-and-resurrection). In other words, we must inhabit the missio Dei.

    A second perspective is that, as people blown by the spirit/Spirit, I must be the change I want to see. Importantly, the parameters of that change are utterly contingent on the spiritual life.

    And the third perspective is that we must live a communal life - _we_ must be the change _we_ want to see. Brandon's argument may not necessarily be liberated from the western filter you identify, Mark, I fear. If there are just two poles - individual <=> God - then that is still the same trapdoor opening beneath our argumentation. The three lines of sight are needed for a full view of the necessary change.

    I would argue that Gandhi was indeed holding this tension correctly, though this is hard to see when he is decontextualised. As Simon says, satyagraha is a divinely mediated modus operandum - even a modicum of reading on Gandhi's arguments would see that. Nonetheless, Gandhi's aphorism is a challenge to perceive the role of (the) individual(s) in divine change - if we leave it up to god/God, how will it ever get done? But, and this is the vital context, he says it in the midst of mid-Twentieth Century India, a society which was corporately and communally framed, a society whose natural reflex would tend to read you as second person plural - you people, rather than you person.

    I believe you're right about Gandhi, Mark. I hope you're right about Brandon's argument as well.
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    Even Christians have to admit that being doers of the Word (James 1:22) is in order to help extinguish our plentiful pride. We can talk about the finer points of anyone's advice. But if that advice can help inspire us to go out and DO the things God commands of us and not getting wrapped up in our own pieties, then I applaud Ghandi.

    At least a few claps for Ghandi's statement. Infinite claps for Jesus' works!
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    excellenct stuff brandon, this vision of the move of God is crucial to understanding our calling as a church. Lee Camp in Mere discipleship does a great job of combining this understanding with the ethics of the kingdom(yoder). This eschatological vision is missing among many mennonites and anabaptist but it is clearly the basis for living the kingdom ethic now(incl. non-violence) - Not merely some humanistic approach - we can all just get along.
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    This is one of the best posts I've read. Your explanation of inaugerated eschatology is excellent. Furthermore, your observation regarding Ghandi's egocentric worldview is noteworthy. Most people (unfortunately, including most Christians) are totally unaware of the ecclesial nature of Paul's letters. That was particularly the problem of the Corinthian Church. Good job! I love N.T. Wright. As far as I'm concerned, he is the master theologian of the age.
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    Loved this man. We've been exploring Revelation 21 together this week as a community, and I find that that vision of the New Jerusalem (which is a symbol of the Church) calls us to something now. We can be that glimmering Bride who stands firm in contrast to the Whore NOW. Let us be, together, that change that reflects God's kingdom reality.
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    Brandon, I like the thrust of your thoughts, but think you have rather unnecessarily twisted Gandhi's words. Could it not be said that Gandhi has it exactly right and that each disciple should be so thoroughly immersed and melded with their teacher's desires and character that the change they want would, by definition, be the change that God would make in the world? That is a truer picture of what you've envisioned as I understood you.
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    Mark said it -- I'm not attacking Gandhi's vision as much as how we have individualized it.
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    Simon (friend of Jarrod) 2 months ago
    ah, ok, appreciate that...with a provocative title like 'Gandhi was wrong', I trust you can understand how I could make that mistake...I'd be interested in a Christian critique though...where _do_ you think his vision differs from Christianity (if at all)?
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    I wrote and essay on that, Simon …

    "Nonviolence is a power that can be wielded equally by all - children, young men and women or grown up people - provided they have a living faith in the God of Love and have therefore equal love for all mankind. When nonviolence is accepted as the law of life it must pervade the whole being and not be applied to isolated acts."
Mohandas K Ghandi (cited in Harijan, September 5, 1936; from A Peace Reader: Essential Readings on War, Justice, Non-Violence and World Order [J. J. Fahet and R. Armstrong (eds); New York: Paulist, 1992], 174).

    Critically evaluate this view and those of Christians who embrace non-violence.
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    you gonna share your essay or are you setting me one? ;)
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    "Be the change God will eventually make in the world."

    Those are good words, and I'm glad to have read them. When Jesus returns to wipe away the Age of Sin and bring the Kingdom of God to full realization all violence, exploitation, and greed will be no more.

    Your post reminds me of Richard B. Hays' book entitled The Moral Vision of the New Testament. Hays talks a lot about our behaviors which are unethical in God's eyes (and therefore unethical, period) will have no place in the coming kingdom, so we should seek to correct those now.

    I'm grateful that God loves his enemies. I was pretty big one for awhile.
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    Brandon,
    Great Blog. I just recently found your site off of another friend's. This opened my mind and heart completely to see that Gandhi was not correct. I just love the new quote "Be the change God will eventually make in the world." In fact, as I was reading along, before I came to the spot where you re-quoted Gandhi, I personally had re-worded the quote myself. I'd said "Be the change God wants to see in the world."

    In any case, you totally hit the nail on the head in many aspects of this article. "It is the life of the change that God will one day make in the world. Or, more properly, that He is already making...The Age to Come has begun in the person of Jsus, and continues in the life of His Church....The Spirit is given to begin the work of making God's future real in the present.

    I look forward to spending much more time here at Jesus Manifesto reading you and the other writers' Blogs.

    ~Amy
    www.myspace.com/amyinsurprise
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    Wow Brandon, this is just beautiful. N.T. Wright's eschatology, a bit of Hays "Moral Vision" language, and the dismantling of Western individualism while deconstructing a quote from Ghandi--I don't know how you did it, but you did.
    Now if only I could find a way to dial all this down into something to present my sunday school class this week as we study Colossians 1:9-23.
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    "a lot about our behaviors which are unethical in God's eyes (and therefore unethical, period) will have no place in the coming kingdom, so we should seek to correct those now. "

    I am a bit confused on this issue.... Does God see his bride as perfect, as we are "In Christ" and therefore as "Christ is so are we"
    or does God see the ecclessia's behavior as unethical and not worthy of the kingdom, therefore she must change her ways?
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    This is confusing, but I think it is best understand in Paul's (also confusing) letter to the Romans (6). Before this Paul discussed how we are saved by faith (through grace) and that this is not by anything with have done, but a gift from God. Paul then goes on state that we should not continue to sin (as if by doing so grace would increase), but we must realize that through Christ's death and resurrection we now longer operate in slavery to sin but to righteousness. I love how that ESV puts it, that we "must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus" (6:11). I understand this to mean that we no longer operate under the laws and structures that are a response to sin, as well as to mean that we should no longer sin. Instead we literally have a new life, which makes us slaves to righteousness, which I understand (at least right now) to mean that we operate under the lordship of the Messiah who already defeated death and sin, and who, through grace allows us to live within his Kingdom right now. This means that through grace (which covers our sin, even when we sin now) we have the freedom to love our enemies, to no longer worry about death or our security, we can live generously knowing that God provides for his nation, and when we sin we can consider it already covered by grace and then go on considering ourselves as alive under Christ's lordship. We can do this in the hope and anticipation of a ressurection like his (Romans 6:4-5), and in anticipation of the renewal of all of creation (Romans 8:18-24). We do not change our ways because we are legally bound to do so, but because Christ's lordship has already been revealed to us and grace allows us to already live within his kingdom.

    To me this is incredably exciting and freeing. At times I struggle with anger, materialism, jealousy (as in coveting) and other sins (lust, self-centeredness, hoarding, etc), but because of the hope I have in Christ's work, I can wake up everyday, consider myself dead to sin and alive in Christ, and try again to live in the freedom that makes all those sins absolutely ridiculous.

    Of course this does not we sit around waiting for God to provide or ignore sin when Christian's sin (note that we are only called to address a Christian's sin, 1 Cor 5:9-13). Christians are still called to work diligently (1 Thess 4:11-12), but here we are also called to live quietly, mind our own affairs (as Christians) and not to be dependant on outsiders, so that we can live properaly before them (in the ESV it says to be dependant on "no one," but I understand this to mean not depedant on outsiders as clearly there was interdependance in the early church).

    I believe we can do all of these things because of the security we have in Christ. Brandon's language, which you re-typed, is a little bit absolutist for my taste. I don't think war was always completely "unethical" and it is understandable that those who are still blind to Christ's lordship would choose to engage in it from time to time, but we, as followers of Christ, should be the light that points to his lordship (calling people into his kingdom of peace and reconciliation), for us to act as if we still blind to that, as if we are still living in the old way (before Christ) is senseless.
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    Thanks for this post, Brandon. I'm going to be preaching on Mt 6:33 in a couple of weeks and I think you've given me the direction I need to go.
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    Brandon,
    I've been thinking a lot about what you've written. You said we should be "the change God will make in the world". I agree with that statement. However, it presupposes I know what that change is; that I know the mind of God. To some degree, we can understand the mind of God through reading the Bible. Somethings are obvious and all Christians agree on them. There are quite a number of things that the Christian community does not agree upon, the extent to which one should practice non-violence being one of them. To say that a person knows that God does not want any violence seems to me that you are claiming greater knowledge of God's intentions than your peers.

    It seems like if you were to leave Ghandi's statement the way it was then your understanding of God's intentions could be interpreted as your personal beliefs rather than an attack against someone else's beliefs.

    I was also wondering about your diagram of Christ being revealed and God's kingdom coming into full glory. Do you see that happening during the thousand year reign of Christ or when Christ returns?
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    "To say that a person knows that God does not want any violence seems to me that you are claiming greater knowledge of God's intentions than your peers."

    No, it's reiterating the Scriptural eschatological vision of God's peace and kingdom being one in which the lion and lamb lie next to one another, when swords are beat into plowshares. The change God will make in the world is one in which violence is no longer practiced; I don't think that's really a point that is questioned. I think the better question, that you may be intimating, is how the church embodies/does not embody the change God will make in the world.

    The claim Brandon is making, and that the NT makes as well, is that the kingdom of God has been inaugurated in the very person of Jesus. The new age has dawned, although because it exists concurrently with the old age, the new awaits consummation. By the power of the Spirit the church can embody the change God will make in the world because that change has already begun...our refusal to practice nonviolence even in the overlap of the ages suggests we resist the coming of the kingdom of God and instead find ourselves in collusion with the rebellious powers of the old age.
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    There may be some wiggle room here.

    The eschatological focus is connected to the circumstance of oppression: freedom from oppression was available existentially in the liberating and supportive practices of the church, whereas ontological freedom from oppression -- what we might call "revolution" -- was deferred eschatologically, to take place at the hand of God. Throwing off the yoke of oppression through violence -- roughly, the Zealot option -- was rejected.

    This becomes complicated for two reasons. One, most of us are not oppressed or associated significantly with people groups that are. This means that our theologizing is taking place in a bubble of power and privilege and relative security that is alien to the NT's early audience. True, the wealthy and powerful were not unknown among the early Christians, but the overall makeup of the early Christians as a group was quite different from the demographics of contemporary Christianity. This is nothing to feel guilty about, but it is a difference. Many of the questions we ask presume our position, not theirs.

    The second complication is that it is not entirely clear how Jesus' response to oppression translates into a reaction to the "random acts of violence" often referred to in discussing the limits of nonviolence. In previous discussions none of us offered responses that take "do not resist an evil person" altogether literally, partially because even to the ardent pacifist this seems too quietistic and partially (perhaps) because the "evil person" presumed by Jesus and his audience was most likely a Roman soldier (or some other symbol of oppression) and less likely a garden variety dark-alley attacker.

    I think we would do well to admit and embrace this ambiguity. The pacifist position is attractive for its consistency at a certain level, and for the clarity that is afforded by simplicity. It is defensible, but it is not a slam-dunk. Maria is right to invoke the difficulty of interpretation, and I would suggest that "Some things are obvious and all Christian agree on them" is probably still too optimistic. :)
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    Right said, Ted.
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    Ok, but I think I'm still confused. Is what being advocated non-violence against government and/or symbols of oppression by the individual citizen or groups of citizens or is the appeal for non-violence to apply to more extensive situations of everyday living? I appreciate your highlighting the ambiguity of interpretation. I guess as I've thought more extensively on this eschatological focus I am wondering how the death of Annanias and Saphira fit in? While Peter didn't actually kill either of them, it seems as though Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom which would imply that he had a certain amount of responsibility in their deaths. If the kingdom is one of peace, then wouldn't it logically follow that the means of governance of God kingdom (his church in the simplest form) would use methods of non-violence? But this doesn't seem to be the case in this situation, either by the hand of God or the word of Peter.
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    Being advocated by whom? Me? Or Jesus? I don't pretend they're the same. :)

    More seriously: I think the primary context of things like "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you", or the whole cheek/cloak/extra mile montage, or similar admonitions from Paul, including his quote from the OT, "'Vengeance is mine; I will repay,' says the Lord", or not waging war against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, or how their weapons were not of this world, and so forth, is a call for YHWH-worshipping communities not to respond to oppression with violence.

    And I'm not sure this means "non-violence against", if the use of "against" is anything more than an arbitrary word choice. It's more like non-violence in contrast to, which is one way of trying to make sure that resistance doesn't simply become the very thing it is fighting. Historically, of course, this is what happened: if there really was a pristine non-violent believing community, it lost the struggle to define Christianity, which became a recapitulation of Empire (most of it still is).

    As for Ananias and Sapphira, I haven't thought of that story in this light. Mostly it seems to be a cautionary tale about proper (and honest) participation in the community. Apparently sharing property had enough cachet that A&S wanted to at least look like they were doing so, but their dishonesty is judged. It is, however, God who does the judging, and I don't think this is inconsistent with Paul's insistence that judgment is the exclusive prerogative of God, denied to the church.

    Peter may be the moutpiece in this instance, and as much as might look like he force-choked them like Darth Vader (which makes the episode much more interesting), that's clearly not the case and I'm not sure it has altogether that much to do with the keys of kingdom (unless the whole pericope is really a sensationalist way of narrating a much more mundane process of communal discernment, but then I'm showing my 'liberal' cards...).
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    Thanks, Ted, for the clarity. I got the impression from Brandon's first posting that he was suggesting the use of non-violent practices for all of life's difficult situations, whether in government or outside of government, whatever form governance might appear.
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    He might have been, though I suspect not.

    I think I see a clash here between a way of thinking about ethics that presupposes it to be about universal application (which is the normal way of thinking about ethics), and a particularist ethics that seeks to work out how the church is to behave as the vanguard of the eschaton. I assumed that Brandon was speaking only to the latter.

    Christian ethics is normative only to the extent that it prefigures and participates in the life of the age to come. To the extent that such an age has not come in fulness, there will always be the world, against which the church defines itself and for which the church exists (in both cases, this is because the church wages war against the principalities and powers to which the world is held captive; it does so by embodying the alternative).

    The world might learn from the church, which bears witness to the reign of God, but it cannot fully embrace the church's ethics or calling without becoming the church (which would not be such a bad thing, but is not likely to happen).

    By the same token, the church cannot undertake actions that are necessary for the world without becoming the world, or becoming problematically of the world -- which is to say, becoming (or remaining) captive to the very powers against which it should be fighting.
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    Hi Maria -- I think Ben and Ted spoke to most of your concerns about knowing the mind of God, etc., with more eloquence than I could have.

    As to the millennial reign question: remember that kingdom language in the New Testament isn't strictly talking about a future time. It is, but it's also talking about that future age coming into the present. Think of when cookies are baked in the kitchen, and the very taste of those cookies waffs through the house to you in an whole different room.

    Same kinda thing. God was planning to launch his kingdom project for millennia. In Christ, the oven has figuratively reached cooking temperature and the dough's been put in. Now all creation has been filled somehow --somehow!-- with the aroma of that dawning New Creation. And we are, to keep the analogy going in a way that meets up with Paul, the aroma of Christ waffing through the house and drawing people to that heavenly oven, eagerly awaiting for the baking timer to click, and the cookies to come out in "full glory."

    And the best part is, we get some advance tastes of those cookies, even as the fullness of that yummy plate o goodness is still being readied. In the Holy Spirit, in the Word, in Baptism, in the Lord's Supper, and so many other ways, we are getting advance tastes of the coming Cookies of Glory.

    If you're premill and are still awaiting a 1000-year deal between the "church age" and "new heavens, new earth", (as your question seems to tip your hand as being) then I think that my article's basic idea still works, this overlap of the ages or this inbreaking aroma of God's future.

    And now, dang, I want some cookies before I hit the hay...
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    With highlighting the difficulties of knowing the mind of God, I was trying to gently show that your statement of "God, not any one of us, is the projector of the moral vision of a world set aright that we are called move toward and to embody." might come across as a bit arrogant to someone who has a different interpretation of what change God is bringing to the world. I do admire, though, your desire to submit to God's plan rather than impose your vision as God's. I do agree with you that the Church community helps us to discern God's vision. I'm just not sure how you make the leap to an exclusive non-violent practice in the current earthly temporal space as being the God's will for the world at this time. It would seem to me that until there is resurrection to our future new earth bodies, there is a limit to the non-violence that can be a part of this old earth system.

    Biologically, God uses violence to maintain the peace of his creation. Scientifically, it seems, God uses violence to make his creation, although I'm not sure I would go as far as he authors that violence. But the very nature of death, embedded in the laws of entropy, are what is necessary for there to be life in this system.

    And I don't think you read me right on the premil stuff, (I'm not sure, though, as I don't understand all the in's and out's of various theological persuasions). Would it be safe to assume that God's kindom would be expressed to it's fullest extent on earth (in it's present unregenerated form) during the thousand year reign of Christ?
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    While Ghandi's quote may often be interpreted in the highly subjective manner you suggest, especially here in the U.S., which leads the world in individualism, it is not what Ghandi meant by the quote. Among a few other lengthier things that could be pointed out, there is no emphasis on you.

    Perhaps a better title would be why we're wrong about Ghandi.
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    Is it just me, or is the emphasis on Ghandi -- whose position was obviously more complicated than a sound bite deconstructed as a conceit for an article about something else -- missing the point just a smidge?
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    Well said

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