Andy Samberg’s impersonation of Nicholas Cage is not perfect, but it’s hysterical. I’m thinking, of course, of the Saturday Night Live Weekend Update segment “Get in the Cage,” in which Samberg, impersonating Cage, interviews other actors. At some point during the interview, after recounting the details of the guest’s recent movie, Samberg/Cage asks, “How am I not in that movie?!?”

For example, in a recent episode, Liam Neeson was the guest and he was promoting the movie “Battleship.” Samberg summarizes the movie thusly, “A movie in which robot aliens invade earth from the ocean,” and then shouts, “How am I not in that movie?!?”

Anyway, all that to say that when I received the recently released collection of essays edited by Tripp York and Justin Bronson Barringer titled A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions About Christian Nonviolence, I literally exclaimed in the solitude of my home office, “How am I not in this book?!?”

See, back in 2007, I wrote a piece for the Burnside Writers Collective that I called “Five Questions Your Pacifist Friends Are Tired of Answering” (pay no mind that the piece is attributed to my friend and BWC editor Jordan Green; an importing error I think). In it, I attempted to provide brief yet detailed answers to a few of the questions I heard time and again since professing to be a Christian pacifist in 2002. Among these questions were “What if your (insert loved one here) was attacked?,” “What about the Old Testament?,” and “What about Romans 13?”

In A Faith Not Worth Fighting For, each of these questions appears, but each gets the full chapter treatment. Amy Laura Hall and Kara Slade collaborate on the question of “What would you do if someone were attacking a loved one?,” Ingrid E. Lily answers “What about war and violence in the Old Testament,” and Lee C. Camp takes on “What about Romans 13.” And they, and all their coauthors in the collection, do an excellent (and much more thorough) job of addressing these challenging queries with intelligence and grace.

As I mentioned above, the collection is edited by Tripp York, who teaches religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College, and Justin Barringer, a graduate student at Asbury Theological Seminary. In their introduction, they identify the need for their book and highlight a question that has haunted me since my adoption of nonviolence, why is it that of all of Jesus’ commands, his call to nonviolence — arguably one of the more explicit — is most often ignored? Barringer and York tread lightly in an effort to not offend readers, but one can tell that they feel strongly, as I do, about this matter. Later in their introduction they plainly state, “We do not think nonviolence is a tangential matter.”

It has always struck me as odd that many of those who so forcefully insist that the Bible be read “literally,” never take literally Jesus’ statements regarding nonviolence. Barringer and York quote Ghandi on this: “The only people on earth who do not see Christ and his teachings as nonviolent are Christians.” Of course, they point out, this couldn’t have been said of the early Christians who, for the first three centuries of our common era “were known for their refusal to participate in violence.”

The ways that many of the questions in the book are phrased perfectly illustrate the view of many Christians that there must be an exception when it comes to nonviolence. For example, Gregory A. Boyd answers the question “Does God Expect Nations to Turn the Other Cheek,” illuminating the oft-issued exception that Jesus was really only talking about individuals. Or later, John Dear answers, “Didn’t Jesus Overturn Tables and Chase People Out of the Temple with a Whip.” The thought, of course, is that if Jesus became angry with the moneychangers and wielded a whip to clear the place out, certainly violence is justified sometimes.

The sum of the parts of A Faith Not Worth Fighting For aims to convince readers that Jesus’ teachings indeed call us to a life of nonviolence, and maybe it will. It’s hard for me to say because as I read through I nodded my head in agreement and uttered the occasional “Amen.” But my experience from my own attempt to answer some of these same questions is that there is something so rooted in human beings, so tied to our nature and so easily disguised as a healthy sense of self preservation, that enables us to breezily justify ignoring not only Jesus’ call to nonviolence but the way he modeled it in his own death.

I do hope they will be able to convince. I’ve long dreamt that Christians will once again be at the forefront of nonviolent advocacy. Whatever the turnout, though, it is good that this book exists and even better that it is part of a series, called “The Peaceable Kingdom Series,” that “seeks to challenge the pervasive violence assumed necessary in relation to humans, nonhumans, and the larger environment.”

I look forward to reading the next titles in the series. And I’m sure that again I’ll exlcaim, “How am I not in this book?!?”

About The Author

Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

Editor | Follow him on Twitter.

  • Phil

    I don’t think Jesus meant for the use of violence to be black and white. I do agree that in the vast majority of cases Jesus meant for us to not do violence to one another. However, I don’t think you can simply say “I/We must NEVER use violence.” Our whole society is based on violence. We protect one another using violence. We enforce laws using violence, we tax people with the ultimate threat of violence. You can not force people to do anything without the last means of enforcement being violence. It is not done in cruelty or hatred, or without regard to what is to be gained and lost. I don’t understand how anyone could be a pacifistic and support any law, mandate, government what so ever. I’m not a biblical scholar, so I struggle to see how Jesus being human, knowing the imperfections of Earth, would not use violence to enforce laws to keep whatever imperfect form of society we have intact, to protect, enforce, and discipline. Maybe we aren’t meant to have a society, maybe we are suppose to let violence happen to others and ourselves, maybe we aren’t suppose to force people to do things against their will for good or bad, but it is almost impossible for me to think that way, to ignore survival.

    • Dan

      Exactly. Pacifism is the new fundamentalism: just biblical literalism and legalism. Honestly I find it unbelievable… *in the same sermon* Jesus says we should never get angry or insult people, and yet later he’s happy to get furious at the Pharisees and call them names. This makes it doubly obvious that the rest of the Sermon can’t be taken literally either, especially when innocents are facing slaughter.

  • http://mrliterati.com Nathanael Bassett

    Our society is based on violence, but the kingdom of God isn’t. Stringfellow uses Revelations to illustrate this, Crossan uses the life of Jesus, and Tolstoy uses the gospels. There’s another great book by Richard Hughes that contrasts the kingdom of God to “Christian America.” just because the world orders itself by violence does not invalidate Jesus’s claim to pacifism – it is the obvious basis of such a call. Be ye not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind!

    • Phil

      That’s basically my understanding as well of current views of pacifism and Jesus’ teachings. I believe that is the easy answer to a host of difficult question. Of course there is no violence in the kingdom of heaven, we however do not currently live in the kingdom of heaven. As you’ve pointed out we should not conform to this world, so how then can a pacifist(Christian) support any law, government, tax, etc. without sinning? If we are called to absolute pacifism, then it must be a sin to commit any violence. Do we let violence happen, how do you impose anything on another person without sinning?

    • Dan

      I guess you’d better never get married as that also won’t be going on in the Kingdom. Or, for that matter, you better not practise non-violent resistance and definitely not let 3rd parties get murdered through your own lack of violent action where no non-violent alternative is available… given that certainly won’t be going on in Heaven either.

  • http://chadthomasjohnston.com Chad Thomas Johnston

    DUDE, you need to type a contribution of your own, print it on paper to match the trim/binding of the book, glue it in there, and mail a copy to the authors. They’ll get the picture.

  • Patrick Sawyer

    The military campaigns in the old testament are well known. Jesus being fully God and the 2nd person of the one trinitarian God from all eternity, not only inspired the words of the old testament but also sovereignly ordained the events of the old testament. Text without context is pretext. Taking texts like Matthew 5:38-40 and making application to all forms of violence is bad exegesis and a dangerous misrepresentation of the views of Christ. Most authentic Christians are not pacifists because their Savior and Lord, Christ Himself, is not a pacifist.

    • idonotexist

      no offense, but what’s the “good” exegesis of “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword”?

      • Patrick Sawyer

        Great question. The verse you mention is Matthew 26:52. The context of the verse is the betrayal of Jesus by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Judas shows up with the high priest and roman guards and famously tips off the identity of Jesus by kissing Him. Just before Christ utters the statement you reference, Matthew tells us that one of Jesus’ companions draws his sword and strikes the ear of the servant of the high priest, cutting it off. Judas had brought with him a contingency of Pharisees and roman guards to capture Jesus. John 18:10 (John’s account of the same event) tells us that it was in fact Peter who drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest. John tells us the name of the servant was Malchus (John 18:10).

        When Peter strikes the ear of Malchus Jesus says several things. He said “Put your sword back in it’s place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword (v52). Do you think I cannot call on my Father , and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels (v.53)? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way (v54)? Am I leading a rebellion that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me (v55). But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled” (v56). In addition to this verbal response by Jesus we learn in Luke’s account of the same event that Jesus heals and fully restores the ear of Malchus (Luke 22:51).

        Notice several things from the context. First, Peter, a leading disciple and follower of Jesus, one of Jesus’ closest companions, is carrying a sword. Peter was no pacifist (defined here as one who abstains from all or virtually all violence). Jesus had not forbade Peter from carrying his sword. Moreover, Luke 22:49, referring to this event, tells us that all of Jesus’ companions were carrying swords (they were not pacifists either) and they questioned Jesus if they should draw their swords to prevent the capture of Jesus indicating at least two things: 1) they weren’t certain if they should use violence to defend Jesus but 2) they knew it might be a possibility. Jesus did not have a problem with his followers carrying swords. At times they may need to defend themselves. Some may try to say that the disciples carried swords only to defend themselves against wild animals but this is mere conjecture without basis. The concept of the disciples carrying swords only to defend off wild animals is nowhere in Scripture. Moreover the Greek word used for the swords of the companions of Jesus (Luke 22:49) is the same derivative of the Greek word used for the swords of the roman guards that came to capture Jesus (Matthew 26:55) which were clearly used for battle.

        Next we see from the context (v53) that Jesus reminds Peter that He could call down legions of angels to defend Him if need be. This is telling. He is reminding Peter that He can handle His own defense if He so chooses to defend Himself. That He does not need Peter (or any other human agency) to defend Him. His statement also lets us know that physical violence is not outside the job description of the angels who are under His command or His statement would be nonsensical. It also indicates to us that the concept of defending Jesus in this context with violent force was not an absurd consideration. It was just the wrong consideration.

        The next verses (54-56) help us get to the heart of what Jesus meant when he said what you referenced “all who draw (or live) by the sword will die by the sword” (v52). Notice verses 54-56. In those verses Jesus reminds us that His plan has always been to go to the cross and die for the sins of all who would seek forgiveness and reconciliation to God in Him. In John’s account of this same event Jesus also said to Peter “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). Jesus’ capture and death MUST NOT be prevented. The Scriptures (Psalm 8, Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 and many others) telling of His capture, torture, and crucifixion would, in fact, be fulfilled. This is similar to the rebuke that Jesus gave Peter in Matthew 16:21-23 when Peter misunderstood that the capture and death of Jesus MUST happen.

        The disciples along with most of the Jewish nation assumed that the Messiah would come and restore an earthly kingdom, one where the enemies of the Jewish nation would be vanquished by force. This was a serious misunderstanding. Jesus reminds them in verse 55 that he is not leading a violent rebellion, that He has been with them in the open daily, with no attempt to physically defend Himself. In reference to the verse “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” Jesus is telling us that He has no desire to establish His kingdom by physical force and moreover any supposed attempt to establish a spiritual kingdom by physical force betrays it is an inauthentic endeavor and will ultimately die by the sword itself for attempting to establish itself by physical violence. Those who want to establish God’s kingdom by physical violence will die by physical violence because that path is the exact opposite of what God desires. The kingdom of Jesus is established spiritually through forgiveness, faith, and love, not through physical violence. This is one of the things that makes Islam so egregious. Traditional Islam teaches the dar el Harb (non Muslim lands) are to give way to the dar el Islam (Muslim lands) through either conversion or conquest. Jihad, regarded as the sixth pillar of Islam by 100s of millions of Muslims, is an affront to God because it seeks to make converts by physical force.

        Jesus is telling Peter that His kingdom will not be established by physical force and moreover that those attempting to establish any spiritual kingdom in the name of God via physical violence and subjugation will themselves ultimately come to a violent end. This is what is meant by “those who live by the sword will die by the sword” from the specific context of which it is found in Matthew 26:47-55.

        I should also say that I am only contending that Christ is not a pacifist, not that He is pro-violence of any and every kind. Of course He’s not. Much of the violence in this world Jesus hates, He’s just not against all forms of violence.

  • Patrick Sawyer

    Wow. I just re-read my last comment. I apologize for the atrocious grammar, particularly the last sentence in the 2nd to last paragraph. The last sentence should have read: “This is what is meant by ‘those who draw (or live by) the sword, will die by the sword’ from the specific context found in Matthew 26:47-55″. Was in too big of a hurry. Apologize for the somewhat brutal read.

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  • Bob England

    I can never work it out why people can’t suss out for themselves that Jesus never existed. Initially he was one of many fable characters like Robin Hood, Batman, Big Foot. As he grew more popular he was given by the writers a fictitious background of fighting evil, doing good, advising the under-dog, uttering words of wisdom, the a few centuries later some Priest tippled the guy was a money-maker if you called him the Son Of God. So soon thereafter the business called ‘Alms for the Love Of Jesus’ got its big break. The message on the streets was join us, spread the word, keep upto 40% of what you raise. Purchase your gown and cloak from us and be out tomorrow earning big bucks. No religious training required. The ability to throw a knife or poison guests drinks is a distinct advantage. And the long and short of it is that’s how Jesus got his big break. Please don’t reply saying it’s in the Scriptures, we have proof, there is no proof, no facts, no evidence other than the battle between pagans and new born hoaxers and mind control freaks who burnt whistle blowers at the stake to free their souls from torment.

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  • http://textsincontext.wordpress.com Michael Snow

    New resource and quotes blog on Christian pacifism.
    http://christianpacifismblog.wordpress.com/

  • http://stratapacis Roberto Souza

    Good article.
    Please see my blog at: http://stratapacis.blogspot.com.br/2013/04/how-to-achieve-world-peace.html
    Thanks
    Roberto

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