Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Introduction to Pax Christi series

In this series I will be producing an exegetical study of scriptural material dealing with the issues of violence and pacifism. My hope is to provide a thorough-going exegetical basis for pacifism as the dominant theological paradigm of Christian ethics. Each section will consider a passage of scripture, and explore the exegetical issues that relate directly to our question. I will begin with the Gospels and work through the New Testament corpus, before engaging specific Old Testament issues.

In doing so, I will lay out some theological prolegomena. I take it that, with a Chalcedonian Christology, Jesus the incarnate Son of God is paradigmatic for all Christian ethics. He is the image of God, par excellence, and insomuch as we were originally created in imagine Dei we are likewise called imitationi Christi. At few, and decisive, points our human life differs from the life of Jesus. I will highlight the importance of these in advance, and explore them in depth during our textual forays. Firstly, although we are explicitly called to follow Christ even if that means death, our deaths are divergent specifically in regards to the Atonement. This does not change the ethics of such sacrificial deaths, only the theological significance of Christ’s unique death, which is related both to his perfectly righteous human life, and his divine nature. Secondly, I will argue that there is a dimension of Christ’s eschatological judgment that relates specifically to his divine nature in a way that is not permitted to his human followers.

We will commence with the Gospels, in which I will treat parallel passages under one occurrence. I expect to exclude explicitly treating the Book of Revelation, which I consider the most powerful and persuasive text for a pacifist ethic, instead addressing such issues as the occur in my extended exegetical treatment of that book in its own series.

In this approach, I consider the New Testament to be determinative for a Christian ethic. In relating the New to the Old we can never be Marcionites, but nor can we adopt a merely harmonistic approach, especially if we seek to temper clear New Testament teachings by ‘balancing’ them with Old Testament theology. Rather, I will seek to outline the Old Testament’s theology of violence in a way both faithful to the Old Testament, and which allows us to see what the New Testament does with that theological tradition.

5 comments:

The Pook said...

One exegetical issue you will need to deal with, it seems to me, is John the Baptist's answer to the soldiers who asked him what they should do in Luke 3:14. You will need to explain why he did not tell them to stop being soldiers.

Seumas Macdonald said...

I do not really think that is an incredibly difficult issue. John the Baptist doesn't fully understand Jesus' messiahship, why would we expect him to proclaim a cruci-formed pacifism?

Any realistic doctrine of pacifism must emerge from the NT, and be shaped by a robust understanding of the Christological shape of post-Easter ethics.

The Pook said...

His doubts concerning the nature of the Messiah's ministry don't affect the truth of the things he said to the Jews as a an Old Covenant prophet, which included his endorsement of Jesus as the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. You could argue that his message is transcended in the New Covenant, but I don't think you can argue that his non-pacifism was merely from his limited human understanding.

It's almost certainly not true that there are NO examples of Christians in the armed forces or government before 174AD. Cornelius was a centurion. But that's irrelevant. Even if there aren't, that doesn't prove that Pacifism is the normative or only possible Christian ethical position. There are lots of things the early church (or sects within it) did or didn't believe or practice, some of which are mutually exclusive. All that matters in the end is what the bible definitively teaches. If it's not clearly taught in the New Testament, it's not to be required of Christians to believe or practice.

Seumas Macdonald said...

1) I would argue that pacifism only emerges as normative on the basis of the New Covenant, that's why I don't really think John the Baptist's comments are a problem

2) The early church doesn't get everything right, but understanding the early fathers' positions on things helps cast light on the NT. A consistent position from the fathers casts significant light on how the early church understood this issue.

3) I would argue that pacifism emerges as a consistent implication of the NT. It's not necessary, in terms of a core doctrine that defined orthodoxy, but I would argue it's far more consistent to the scriptures than formulations of just war.

The Pook said...

1) I would argue that pacifism only emerges as normative on the basis of the New Covenant, that's why I don't really think John the Baptist's comments are a problem

Okay, that's a logical approach. Look forward to seeing how you argue it. Not sure you can successfully do it on a one-size-fits-all basis though - I suspect it will be easier to argue biblically on an individual basis than on an intra- or inter- national basis, where you will need to rely far more on deductive than inductive argument, since the biblical data simply isn't there IMO.

2) The early church doesn't get everything right, but understanding the early fathers' positions on things helps cast light on the NT. A consistent position from the fathers casts significant light on how the early church understood this issue.

Think you're on thin ice going down that path. Go too far and you'll end up an Eastern Orthodox.

3) I would argue that pacifism emerges as a consistent implication of the NT. It's not necessary, in terms of a core doctrine that defined orthodoxy, but I would argue it's far more consistent to the scriptures than formulations of just war.

I have never been convinced by the just war arguments as classicly conceived, and especially as specifically applied by the victors of various conquests. However, I have no doubt that in a general sense it was the right thing to fight a defensive war against the Nazis.