Essay – The Christian Aversion to Coercion

Previously I wrote a post entitled Why I’m not a Pacifist. Since then I took a class at Briercrest Seminary about political theology. I’m still not a pacifist, but I think I have better reasons now. I had a great opportunity in that class to work out my views on Christianity and violence in more detail. I’d like to share this essay (approx. 3300 words) with anyone who’s interested in how I handle issues of justice, love, violence, and Christianity–not to mention politics and Christianity! My views are still developing and I’ve definitely grown in this area even since submitting this essay a couple months ago. I’d love to hear your feedback if you’re also wrestling with these questions.
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Introduction: How (Not) to Critique Pacifism

Richard Hays asks a troubling question: “is it ever God’s will for Christians to employ violence in defense of justice?”[1] Hays thinks not. Without a clear definition of violence, however, talk of nonviolence becomes hopelessly ambiguous.[2] If we carefully use the word violence to refer to causing harm and suffering, and set aside misleading talk of nonviolence, then it becomes clear that pacifists—like most non-pacifists—simply regard violence beyond a certain threshold of severity as unjustifiable in any given situation.[3] What is distinctive about Christian pacifism is the belief that Christians have an obligation to Christ to limit their violence towards others to that which lies prior to a certain threshold of severity, killing always being beyond the threshold and therefore never permitted.[4]

A charitable critique of Christian pacifism (henceforth pacifism) must address this purported pacifist obligation to Christ. Appeals to the imprudence of pacifism miss the mark since it is a deontological ethic, not a consequentialist one.[5] Neither will it do to point out that Jesus “used whips to drive the money-changers out of the temple, or that he came ‘not to bring peace but a sword,’ or that he asked the disciples to sell a cloak and buy a sword.”[6] That approach comes across as “futile and pathetic,” building immense ethical structures on meager exegetical foundations.[7] Rather, the sharpest criticism available to the non-pacifist consists of asking, “What grounds the pacifist obligation to Christ?”

There are two primary ways to attempt to ground pacifism. First, it is thought that loving one’s enemies is “a practice incompatible with killing them.”[8] We certainly have an obligation to Christ to love our enemies and, so the argument goes, therefore we also have an obligation to Christ not to kill anyone. Second, even if love were compatible with killing, authority is surely required to kill and Christians are never so authorized by Christ. Although “the governing authority bears the sword to execute God’s wrath,”[9] this task is off limits for Christians who must emulate Christ’s earthly behaviour. In what follows, I will argue that both strategies fail. Contrary to pacifism, Christians ought not to categorically reject killing; they should instead pursue justice in love according to the authority Christ has entrusted to each of them.

Love and Killing

Let’s begin with the claim that killing one’s enemy is incompatible with loving them. Let it be granted that it is certainly possible to kill one’s enemy whilst failing to love them. Quite often this is the case. The question, rather, is whether killing is necessarily unloving.

The simplest pacifistic answer to this question involves juxtaposing love to justice. In a remarkable statement, Hays claims that God’s desire for “stability and justice is supplanted by Jesus’ concern to encourage nonviolent, long-suffering generosity on the part of those who are wronged.”[10] According to Hays, “the New Testament vision trumps the Old Testament.”[11] This claim should give us pause for thought.

Nicholas Wolterstorff offers a sophisticated analysis of biblical love and justice in his books Justice: Rights and Wrongs and Justice in Love. In the former he identifies “a powerful strand of thought in the Christian tradition that de-justicizes the New Testament. The New Testament, so it is said, is about love, not about justice.”[12] Although this teaching could potentially ground the pacifist ethic, it must be rejected as false. “If there is forgiveness in the New Testament, there has to be justice in the New Testament,” since forgiveness presupposes a prior violation of justice.[13] Indeed, two prominent Old Testament themes, namely

God as committed to doing and bringing about justice and God as holding us accountable for doing justice, are carried forward into the New Testament, the latter theme being especially prominent in Romans. In the gospels, the former theme is both highlighted and given a decisive new twist: Jesus is identified as inaugurating God’s reign of justice, namely, Jesus of Nazareth, himself falls victim to a miscarriage of justice. Jesus joins the victims; therein, God joins the victims.[14]

The New Testament is just as much about justice as it is about love. In fact, Wolterstorff argues, biblical justice is an example of love. Consider the context of Jesus’ second love command: “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18 NIV). This statement follows a long series of justice-sensitive injunctions, beginning in verse 9. Wolterstorff summarizes,

The Israelites are to treat justly the members of their people. They are not to oppress or slander them. When a neighbor is in trouble, they are not to stand idly by. They are to reprove the neighbor when he does wrong; but they are not to bear grudges against him, hate him, or take vengeance against him. Moses then says, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[15]

Wolterstorff argues that the second love command is best understood as “In short, love your neighbor as yourself.”[16] The command to love sums up a series of injunctions to do justice, including rectifying justice, such as “judge your neighbor fairly” (Lev 19:15) and “Rebuke your neighbor frankly” (Lev 19:17). Biblical love and justice can never be divorced since “doing justice is an example of love.”[17]

If justice is an example of love, is killing ever consistent with justice in love? If so, what could love possibly amount to?[18] Wolterstorff suggests that any suitable interpretation of New Testament agape must “offer a unified understanding of God’s love for us, the love that we should have for God, the love that we typically have for ourselves, and the love that we should have for the neighbor.”[19] Jesus’ teaching ties these four instances of love closely together; they cannot be understood separately. We must therefore ask whether God’s killing a person is perforce an act of hate, an unloving act. It would seem not. Presumably God, as represented by Jesus, both loves his enemies and kills them at times of his own choosing.[20] God’s offer of reconciliation expires without warning in so far as no one knows when they will die. All this is done without violating God’s perfectly loving moral character. Therefore, since human love is modeled on divine love, there can be no intrinsic incompatibility between love and killing. Pacifists must look elsewhere to ground their obligation to Christ. They must maintain that humans, unlike God, simply lack the authority to kill.[21]

Justice Reconceived

Before addressing a possible grounding for pacifism on withheld divine authority to kill, we ought to pause and reflect on the New Testament understanding of justice. What does Jesus teach and demonstrate by his example? Of course, the Sermon on the Mount supplies the chief passage thought to support pacifism. Jesus says,

You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. . . . You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven (Matt 5:38-40, 43-45, emphasis added).

Both pacifists and non-pacifist alike must admit that this passage includes hyperbolic language.[22] After all, “what Jesus is saying is not, do not resist an evildoer with violence, but, do not resist an evildoer, period.”[23] To interpret this passage, Hays appeals to “the larger paradigm of Jesus’ own conduct in Matthew’s Gospel” as evidence of “a deliberate renunciation of violence as an instrument of God’s will.”[24] However, Wolterstorff notes that Jesus’ behaviour upon arrest supports “not the pacifist [nonviolence] interpretation but the literal, non-resistance, interpretation.”[25] Unless the pacifist is willing to adopt total non-resistance to evil—a truly horrific proposal—the literal interpretation is off the table.

What then is meant by this puzzling teaching? Dallas Willard argues that Jesus is certainly not offering new laws. Rather, he is using specific illustrations to show what his followers will characteristically do when they are wronged.[26] Practically speaking,

in each case I must determine if the gift of my vulnerability, goods, time, and strength is, precisely, appropriate. That is my responsibility before God. As a child of the King, I always live in his presence. By contrast, the way of the law avoids individual responsibility for decision. It pushes the responsibility and possible blame onto God.[27]

Deontological support for pacifism is absent here. Jesus’ followers must always exercise sound judgement and consider the consequences of their actions even though their characteristic response to injury will never be one of automatic retaliation.

Willard’s interpretation is consistent with Wolterstorff’s, who identifies an extended polemic in Jesus’ Sermon. Jesus is “commending his ethic of love in the context of launching a biting attack on the reciprocity code.”[28] According to the reciprocity code justice is retribution, the process of balancing scales. “If someone does you a favor, you owe them an equal favor in return. If someone does you an evil, an equal evil is due them.”[29] Jesus decisively rejects this conception of justice. Retribution is not permitted; neither is it appropriate to expect favours to be returned by others.

If retribution is rejected, what rationale remains for violence? Actually, there are at least three: punishment as reprobation, rehabilitation, and protection for oneself or others.[30] Brevity only permits a short discussion of punishment as reprobation.[31] When one punishes a wrongdoer, one expresses “resentment of the deed done and anger at him for doing it.”[32] Reprobative punishment of this nature “conveys to those who have ears to hear that society does not condone what was done.”[33] C.S. Lewis articulates how reprobative punishment also serves the greater good of the one punished.

Until the evil man finds evil unmistakeably present in his existence, in the form of pain, he is enclosed in illusion. . . . No doubt Pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepentant rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.[34]

Notice how this rationale for violence or harsh-treatment makes no appeal to retaliation or the so called “scales of justice.” Given Jesus’ rejection of retaliation, one might argue that much of the Old Testament violence commanded by Jesus’ Father actually had a reprobative rationale.[35]

Notably, justice does not require reprobative punishment provided that the wrongdoer condemns their deed by repenting and the victim forgives the wrongdoer.[36] Accordingly, repentance and forgiveness make better sense within a reprobative justice system than they do in a retributive justice system (a thought worth considering when discussing theories of the atonement). To sum up, Jesus’ rejection of violence as retaliation does little to rule out legitimate violence as reprobation, protection, or rehabilitation.

Political Authority and Judgment

We now consider the possibility that Christ never authorizes Christians to kill.[37] Killing requires authority and all authority belongs to Christ. From this angle, Hays’ original ethical question actually belongs to political theology and should be rephrased. Is God’s authority to do violence in defense of justice ever mediated through Christians?

In order to answer this question, we need to understand both what political authority is and roughly how God presently delegates it to humans. In his The Desire of the Nations, Oliver O’Donovan sets out to answer both questions.

O’Donovan regards Israel’s ancient proclamation “Yhwh reigns” as the key to understanding political authority. Yhwh’s political authority over Israel is “a point of disclosure from which the nature of all political authority comes into view.”[38] To properly understand this authority, one must take Scripture seriously in its entirety. Although pacifists will be tempted, one “may not appeal to the Exodus for the deliverance of the poor and then avoid mention of the conquest of Canaan.”[39] Neither can one understand what authority is “by constructing a subversive counter-history beneath the surface which defies and challenges the official history of Israel.”[40] Violence belongs to the history of God’s people and to God’s governance of his people. To his credit, Hays admits that the “Old Testament obviously validates the legitimacy of armed violence by the people of God under some circumstances.”[41]

O’Donovan identifies three central elements of authority captured by Israel’s proclamation “Yhwh reigns”. Divine rule is understood as “salvation, judgment and possession.”[42] Since all human political authority is delegated divine authority, O’Donovan concludes that political authority “arises where power, the execution of right and the perpetuation of tradition are assured together in one coordinated agency.”[43] Put another way, “The conjunction of power, judgment and tradition defines what political authority is.”[44]

Regarding lethal violence, a notable theme of the Old Testament is that “when Yhwh says ‘strike’, one must strike.”[45] The people of God do not have the authority to spare those against whom God has commanded violence. Neither, the pacifist should add, may they strike without divine authority since the biblical “military commander depends upon immediate divine direction.”[46]

What does Christ command today? Specifically, what political change did Christ’s life, death, and resurrection bring about? I would be remiss if I failed to mention Ronald Sider’s recent survey of the ancient literature. “What we can say with confidence is that every extant Christian statement on killing and war up until the time of Constantine says Christians must not kill, even in war.”[47] Two popular non-pacifist explanations for this historical phenomenon are that there was a concern to avoid “idolatry in the pagan army” or that the early church was indifferent “to all political life because of the expectation of the speedy return of the Lord.”[48] Sider’s survey convincingly rules out these two options.[49] The non-pacifist should instead consider arguing that the early church leadership was simply wrong on this issue, as they were on other important matters.[50]

How could they be wrong about never killing? Without answering the question, it remains clear that the New Testament teaches that the “subjection of all authorities to Christ’s authority does not mean the dissolution of authority.”[51] Rather, “authority is reordered towards the task of judgment.”[52] Human governments cannot and must not provide ultimate salvation and identity in the way that Yhwh’s government once did for Israel. However, they can and must pursue justice, their sole remaining raison d’être in Christ’s current universal government. Accordingly, the ideal human government would not disband or lay down arms since the “judge has no authority apart from a constable to enforce his rulings.”[53] Although rulers can and do sin when they wield the sword, they need not wield it sinfully.[54] They should instead rule as Christ would have them rule, rejecting retribution and pursuing justice through reprobation, protection, and rehabilitation. Rulers may even forgive truly repentant and transformed wrongdoers, as the church ought to remind them.

Karl Barth recognizes that a Christian categorical refusal to participate in the state—a refusal to wield the sword—amounts to a condemnation of the state’s legitimacy. “A fundamental Christian ‘No’ cannot be given here, because it would be a fundamental ‘No’ to the earthly State as such, which is impossible from the Christian point of view.”[55] Accordingly, a Christian categorical refusal to serve in a ruling capacity amounts to a de facto call for rulers to repent of wielding the sword. This, however, is to foolishly ask them to repent of their proper function, securing justice on Christ’s behalf.

Nevertheless, pacifists will still insist that Christ’s earthly example is normative for Christian political involvement despite the legitimate duties of rulers.[56] Willard identifies the fundamental confusion here. Regarding his personal discipleship, he writes “I am learning from Jesus how to lead my life, my whole life, my real life. Note, please, I am not learning from him how to lead his life.”[57] Jesus lived his own earthly life subject to his Father in submission to human political authorities. He did not thereby demonstrate that justly exercising divinely delegated political authority is a sin. On the contrary, he honoured those in political authority despite their glaring imperfections.

Christians who find themselves commissioned with political authority ought to handle it as Jesus would, indeed as Christ presently does. “I need to be able to lead my life as he would lead it if he were I.”[58] I should rule that over which I have been given authority as Christ would have me rule, not withdraw from Christ’s government altogether. Since wielding the sword justly is no sin, Christians ought not to eschew providential opportunities to exercise Christ’s authority justly out of love for their neighbour.

Conclusion: What About War?

For many pacifists, the horrors of war constitute a powerful vindication of their position. John Howard Yoder claims, “a just war in the Christian sense of the word just or righteous is, of course, excluded by definition.”[59] However, if my argument thus far is correct—if killing is not necessarily unloving and if Christians ought to justly exercise Christ’s political authority when providentially commissioned to do so—then Yoder is deeply mistaken. There are horrors worse than war. Actions during war, like all other actions, can be either just or unjust.

Oliver O’Donovan provides a fresh perspective in his The Just War Revisited. He rejects the idea that just war theorizing ought to establish whether any given conflict is just or unjust. “History knows of no just wars, as it knows of no just peoples.”[60] The proper issue, rather, is how one might “enact judgment even in the theatre of war.”[61] This is crucial. Just as Christians reject retaliation, so war “is always unjustified if it is antagonistic.”[62] Specifically, since “every opposition of hostile parties was subject to the throne of God and of his Christ, there could be no outright duality. Antagonistic praxis was superseded by the climax of salvation-history.”[63] What purpose remains for war? Salvation and national identity are found in Christ and are not to be defended militarily. “No government has a right to exist, no nation has a right to defend itself.”[64] Here’s the key: since political power and tradition “have to be justified at every point by their contribution to the judicial function,”[65] recourse to war must “be re-conceived as an extraordinary extension of ordinary acts of judgment.”[66]

They way of pacifism, by comparison, is a refusal to respond to “unmediated opposition” with “an evangelical counter-praxis of judgment.”[67] Rather than judging and confronting evil, the pacifist accepts martyrdom. However,

the duties which confront us do not begin with martyrdom; they end with it, when we have gone as far as we are permitted to go, done as much as we are permitted to do. Martyrdom is not, in fact, a strategy for doing anything, but a testimony to God’s faithfulness when there is nothing left to do. Which is simply to say that we cannot describe the praxis of international judgment solely by pointing to the moment at which its possibilities run out. . . . As the cross is not the sum of how Jesus ‘went about doing good’, so neither is the command ‘follow me’ exhaustively accounted for by the words: ‘when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go’.[68]

To conclude, I have argued that pacifism sets inappropriate boundaries on violence by juxtaposing love to justice and abdicating Christ’s legitimately delegated political authority. One must distinguish between authorized, just uses of violence on the one hand, and unjust retribution or unauthorized wars of national salvation and survival on the other. Pacifism’s simple prohibitions are no substitute for Solomon’s prayer. Lord, “give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kgs 3:9).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bainton, Roland H. “The Early Church and War.” The Harvard Theological Review 39, no. 3 (July 1, 1946): 189–212.

Barth, Karl. Community, State, and Church: Three Essays. Edited by Will Herberg. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2004.

Boersma, Hans. Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.

Fiala, Andrew. “Pacifism.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta. Fall 2010, 2010. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2010/entries/pacifism/.

Fretheim, Terence E. “‘I Was Only a Little Angry’: Divine Violence in the Prophets.” Interpretation 58, no. 4 (October 1, 2004): 365–375.

Hays, Richard B. The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation: a Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. 1st ed. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.

Jones, Clay. “We Don’t Hate Sin So We Don’t Understand What Happened to the Canaanites: An Addendum to ‘Divine Genocide’ Arguments.” Philosophia Christi 11, no. 1 (2009): 53–72.

Letham, Robert. The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub, 2004.

Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

Niebuhr, Reinhold. Reinhold Niebuhr: Theologian of Public Life. Edited by Larry L. Rasmussen. 1st Fortress Press ed. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1991.

O’Donovan, Oliver. The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology. Cambridge ; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

———. The Just War Revisited. Current Issues in Theology v. 2. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Orend, Brian. “War.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta. Fall 2008, 2008. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/war/.

Sider, Ronald J., ed. The Early Church on Killing: a Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012.

Volf, Miroslav. “Divine Violence.” Christian Century 116, no. 27 (October 13, 1999): 972–972.

Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998.

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Justice in Love. Emory University Studies in Law and Religion. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2011.

———. Justice: Rights and Wrongs. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.

Yoder, John Howard. The Christian Witness to the State. Kindle Edition. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2002.


[^1]: Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation: a Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics, 1st ed (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 317.

[2] Consider for example, the unhelpful claim that “A commitment to nonviolence is, at least, a commitment to avoiding unjustified injury.” Surely one need not be a pacifist to support nonviolence so defined. Andrew Fiala, “Pacifism,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, Fall 2010, 2010, http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2010/entries/pacifism/.

[3] We can thereby account for the fact that although “it may never be fitting to contravene someone’s rights, there may well be occasions when it is justifiable to injure someone.” Hans Boersma, Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 44.

[4] Precisely where the threshold lies is a matter of controversy among pacifists, who will not likely agree on a definition of violence. In any case, the pacifist is clearly within their intellectual rights to believe that killing is wrong without being able to articulate precisely what else counts as violence.

[5] Hays admits, “the reasons for choosing Jesus’ way of peacemaking are not prudential. In calculable terms, this way is sheer folly.” Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, 343; For further discussion of consequentialist versus deontological pacifism, see Brian Orend, “War,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, Fall 2008, 2008, http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/war/.

[6] Reinhold Niebuhr, Reinhold Niebuhr: Theologian of Public Life, ed. Larry L. Rasmussen, 1st Fortress Press ed (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1991), 241.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, 329; Similarly, Miroslav Volf maintains, “It is never God’s will for human beings to use violent means to achieve their good ends.” Miroslav Volf, “Divine Violence,” Christian Century 116, no. 27 (October 13, 1999): 972.

[9] Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, 331.

[10] Ibid., 325 emphasis added.

[11] Ibid., 336 emphasis added.

[12] Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice: Rights and Wrongs (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 96.

[13] Ibid., 109.

[14] Ibid., 110.

[15] Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice in Love, Emory University Studies in Law and Religion (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2011), 82.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Wolterstorff, Justice, 84.

[18] Space prevents me from elaborating, but Wolterstorff understands New Testament love to be love as care rather than love as benevolence. Love as care seeks, rather than merely desires, to promote the flourishing and secure the just treatment of the beloved, seeing to it that they are treated as befits their worth. Such love never wrongs anyone, either for their own good or for the good of another. Wolterstorff, Justice in Love, 101–103.

[19] Ibid., 105.

[20] Volf writes, “the God of the Bible is not, strictly speaking, a nonviolent God. Look wherever you want in the scriptures, in the Old or New Testament, in the teaching and practice of Jesus, in the epistles, or in the book of Revelation, and you invariably find a God who does not shy away from using violence.” Volf, “Divine Violence,” 972.

[21] A slightly different approach is taken by Volf who writes, “we should not be surprised that there are things that only God may do. One of them is to use violence. We are neither good enough nor smart enough to do so appropriately.” ibid. Volf’s claim, that humans are not competent to kill, is fairly similar to the claim that humans are not authorized to kill. A similar argument to what follows could also be raised against that Volf’s view.

[22] Compare this to, for example, Jesus’ injunction to self-mutilate if tempted to sin (Matt 5:29-30).

[23] Wolterstorff, Justice in Love, 125.

[24] Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, 323.

[25] Wolterstorff, Justice in Love, 125.

[26] Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), 178.

[27] Ibid., 179.

[28] Wolterstorff, Justice in Love, 120.

[29] Ibid., 123.

[30] Deterrence, Wolterstorff argues, is not a legitimate use of violence. Ibid., 198.

[31] Concerning the remaining two rationale, even when a serial wrongdoer is forgiven they still should be rehabilitated and “society should be protected” until that occurs. Ibid., 199.

[32] Ibid., 196.

[33] Ibid., 197.

[34] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 93–94.

[35] Clay Jones suggests a reprobative rationale for God’s violence against both the Canaanites and Israel, suggesting that “most of our problems regarding God’s ordering the destruction of the Canaanites comes from the fact that God hates sin but we do not.” God is not necessarily balancing the scales here but more likely speaking truth through violence: sin and rebellion against God are ultimately horrific, both in the Old and New Testament. Clay Jones, “We Don’t Hate Sin So We Don’t Understand What Happened to the Canaanites: An Addendum to ‘Divine Genocide’ Arguments,” Philosophia Christi 11, no. 1 (2009): 53.

[36] Wolterstorff, Justice in Love, 202.

[37] Hays understands Jesus to prohibit “violence in defense of a third party,” (324) appealing to Jesus’ claim that “all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matt 26:52). He finds no instances in the New Testament of “any writer appealing to a principle such as love or justice to justify actions of violence,” (339) and finds “not a syllable in [the] Pauline letters that can be cited in support of Christians employing violence.” Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, 331.

[38] Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (Cambridge ; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 45.

[39] Ibid., 27.

[40] Ibid., 28.

[41] Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, 336 emphasis added.

[42] O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations, 45.

[43] Ibid., 46.

[44] Ibid., 233.

[45] See specifically the story of the hesitant prophet of 1 Kings 20:35 and following. Ibid., 55.

[46] O’Donovan points to Numbers 14:40-5 and 2 Samuel 5:22-5 as examples. Ibid., 54.

[47] Ronald J. Sider, ed., The Early Church on Killing: a Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 194 emphasis added.

[48] Roland H. Bainton, “The Early Church and War,” The Harvard Theological Review 39, no. 3 (July 1, 1946): 200.

[49] Sider, The Early Church on Killing, 191.

[50] For example, regarding the Trinity the early church had it wrong in so far as “before the Council of Nicaea (325) some form of subordination was endemic.” Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub, 2004), 94.

[51] O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations, 233.

[52] Ibid., 286.

[53] Ibid., 233.

[54] “A remarkable number of prophetic texts speak of divine judgment on those nations that have been agents of God (Jer 25:12-14; 27:6-7; 50-51; Isa 10:12-19; 47:1-15; Zech 1:15). In effect, Babylon and other agents exceeded their mandate, going beyond their proper judgmental activites . . . God risks what the nations will do with the mandate they have been given.” Terence E. Fretheim, “‘I Was Only a Little Angry’: Divine Violence in the Prophets,” Interpretation 58, no. 4 (October 1, 2004): 372.

[55] Karl Barth, Community, State, and Church: Three Essays, ed. Will Herberg (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2004), 142–143.

[56] Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, 331.

[57] Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 283.

[58] Ibid., 284.

[59] John Howard Yoder, The Christian Witness to the State, Kindle Edition (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2002), Location 1136.

[60] Oliver O’Donovan, The Just War Revisited, Current Issues in Theology v. 2 (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 13.

[61] Ibid., 6–7.

[62] Ibid., 31.

[63] Ibid., 5.

[64] O’Donovan, The Desire of the Nations, 151.

[65] Ibid., 233.

[66] O’Donovan, The Just War Revisited, 6 emphasis added. .

[67] Ibid., 7.

[68] Ibid., 10–11.

3 responses to “Essay – The Christian Aversion to Coercion

  1. A well thought erudite presentation. Of course where absolutist pacifists go wrong is at the start of the debate, on the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” which is more accurately rendered “Thou shalt do no murder” two separate concepts!

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