Evading Jesus: Christians and Violence

Brian Zahnd recently wrote a blog post titled You Cannot Be Christian and Support Torture that went viral within the evangelical sub-culture. The post generated a lot of conversation, including a lot of disagreement. That’s not surprising but it is saddening. If I didn’t know any better, from the way some Christians defend the use of torture and violence I just might conclude that Jesus is a violent warrior who makes right by violent might.

Of course, that’s ludicrous! Jesus had the opportunity to lead a violent revolution but chose instead to humbly die on the cross at the hands of his enemies rather than killing his enemies. This is how Jesus loves even his enemies and Christians know this. Christians know that Jesus teaches us to love our enemies (cf. Matt 5:44). Christians know that Jesus calls us to follow him by picking up our own cross (cf. Mk 8:34). In fact, Christians know that the teaching and example of Jesus does not include violence.

Even if it can be argued that there are times where some level of violence is permissible (cf. Doctrine of Just-War), there is nothing virtuous about violence.  Violence is nothing for a Christian to champion. But that doesn’t matter for some.

In order to negate the teaching and example of Jesus in the canonical Gospels, some Christians are now claiming that Jesus employed violence in the Old Testament as the second member of the Trinity.

That’s the claim I am reading among some commenters on various blogs and Facebook thread. But plain and simple, this is grasping at straws. There are at least two problems with such an argument:

  1. Suggesting that Jesus used violence in the Old Testament as the second-member of the Triune Godhead broaches upon the heresy of decetism. While such a claim doesn’t actually deny the physical existence of Jesus’s life, it negates the physical life he lived, which was both a non-violent and an exemplary life, by appealing to his divinity in order to justify violence as part of the Christian life. This claim, of course, is made while ignoring the fact that while Jesus is the eternal Son of God, it is only in his flesh as God Incarnate that he reveals the fullness of the invisible God (cf. Col 1:15, 19).
  2. Suggesting that Jesus used violence in the Old Testament as the second-member of the Triune Godhead employs an anachronistic reading of the Bible. The Bible has a directional flow to it’s narrative that such a claim ignores by imposing Christian theological claims upon the earlier part of the narrative while ignoring the claims made in the later part of the narrative. That is, those making such a claim impose Trinitarian theology upon the Old Testament in order to make Jesus violent while setting aside the Trinitarian revelation of God in Jesus Christ which culminates with the cross rather than a sword.

Such carelessness on the part of some Christians, including some who have a theological education, clearly reveals just how much the tail is wagging the dog. In the end it just reveals how much Christianity in America is willing to ignore the elephant in the room… evading the Jesus whom we are called to follow just so that we can continue legitimizing the American way, which includes violence.

Maybe we need to learn from Jesus again…

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” – Jesus, Matt 5:9

3 responses to “Evading Jesus: Christians and Violence

  1. This is a great read. I recently picked up “A Farewell to Mars” and had to put it down in anger. I wasn’t angry because I despised what was being said…I was angry because Zhand is right and I know it. I’ve been conditioned to be a nationalist and a patriot, but over the past several months, God has opened my heart to another way – His way and His Kingdom which is never advanced by violence, coercion, or force. May we be the blessed peacemakers of the Kingdom.

    • I remember reading John Howard Yoder’s “The Politics of Jesus” when I was very nationalistic. I liked the booked but also found myself thinking (and still do today) “If only I hadn’t picked this book up to read…” Because I knew that being a Christian was much easier before.

  2. Here Here. I lead a discussion on this topic in the Facebook ICC Ministry and Theological Study Group just a few days ago. I was completely dumbfounded. Christians. No, Christian LEADERS, flocked to defend the violence, not under the OT Triune Godhead argument you list above, but by claiming that Luke 6 didn’t apply to Governments. For real. Can’t make this stuff up. Selective literalism strikes again.

    Here’s the real quandary. I have said (and I’m sure many of us have at times said) that we want a government which is both grounded in and which looks to biblical principles. I can in no way square that with the idea of rectal feedings, or making our enemies stand on broken legs for hours, or water boarding or dragging their hooded bodies around a compound.

    I have a particularly hard time justifying any of that in light of what Jesus says so vividly in Luke 6:

    ‘But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.’

    Saying that governments are fallen organizations run by fallen people and that God has given governments the authority to fight evil, doesn’t make those specific acts any less vile and sinful.

    To say otherwise is to contend that Jesus didn’t really mean what he said, or more accurately, that we just don’t want to do it.

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