In the past installments of this series of reviews, I have made an effort to tread the thin and delicate line of constructive criticism: on the one hand, I genuinely valued many of the things the book was trying to do, and wanted to affirm and advance them; on the other hand, I was genuinely concerned about points of confusion, unclarity, or just plain error, and wanted to draw attention to them when they were significant enough to have negative consequences. In considering the ways of Weakness and Renunciation (chs. 2 and 3) I coordinated these two objectives by couching my reviews as calls for further clarification, and pointing out how the unclarity could in fact conspire to deprive Jones’s readers of exactly what they most needed—principles for practical action. In considering the ways of Deliverance and of Sharing, on the other hand, my approach consisted more of attempting to ground a similar practical agenda (at least, so far as Jones’s practical agenda was discernible) in different, firmer theological soil, pointing out how failure to do so could render very good practices—works of mercy and of sharing—spiritually destructive.
In this chapter, I am afraid I shall have to take a blunter approach, although I hope that none will be offended. In this chapter, the lack of clarity and equivocation is combined with so sweeping an attack on traditional Christian teaching that it is difficult to salvage anything constructive. Taken alone, either of these might be frustrating, but might still leave us with a good deal to learn or at least converse with. The real problem arises, as I sought to outline in Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 of this review, when these two tendencies are combined. If you want to raise the stakes and condemn the mainstream of Christian practice and teaching for abandoning the way of Christ, this might be unfair or inappropriate, but if your terms are clear and your arguments incisive, you can at least prompt a fruitful debate and discussion. On the other hand, if you write an ordinary work about theology or Christian living, and don’t define your terms all that well and lapse into occasional contradictions, readers might not gain that much from the book, but at least others may be encouraged to try and refine your arguments to more fruitful ends. But if you raise the stakes—God vs. Mammon, the way of salvation vs. the way of destruction—and at the same time, indulge in constant equivocation, then the result can hardly be edifying.
To be sure, as a destructive takedown of contemporary American bloodlust and militarism, some of Jones’s polemics obliquely hit home; though for a somewhat clearer and more useful rendition of this, readers might simply skip to chapter 17, “American Mars.” But aside from the general sense that many of us American Christians might be compromised by too permissive an embrace of the ways of war and violence, and that we might do well to take more seriously Christ’s blessing of “the peacemakers, it is,” readers are given very little which they can use, and quite a bit that they could readily abuse.
Don’t get me wrong. None of this is to “dismiss Jesus” or the idea that we need to take a good, long, hard look at our attitudes toward violence. Few Christians, perhaps, have given serious thought to what it means to love enemies (whether on the battlefield or in their personal lives), or wrestled earnestly with the ethics of war. While I have, after much wrestling and questioning, settled fairly securely into just war camp, I have great respect for sincere and thoughtful pacifists, and have read with profit and appreciation the writings of Yoder and Hauerwas on this subject, as well as the just-war theories of Paul Ramsey and Oliver O’Donovan.
Part of the problem with this chapter is that Jones is neither. Although we might be forgiven for imagining him a pacifist throughout most of the chapter, given his sweeping condemnations of violence of every kind, he surprises us at the end of the chapter by saying, “Does this mean pacifism or an absolute rejection of all violence? Some think so. I don’t think so. One can despise the way of violence and still not be a pacifist.” Does that make him, then, a just war theorist, one who “despises the way of violence” and yet recognizes that it is occasionally, regrettably, necessary in limited ways and for limited ends? It doesn’t seem like it, given that every hint of such a theory is contemptuously dismissed in the chapter as rationalizations for evil provided by “defenders of violence.” But is Jones too among the “defenders of violence,” since he leaves room for it to be sometimes OK (although without any attempt to define when, why, and how)?
We might think that a way out of the dilemma lies ready to hand in the language of “despising the way of violence.” After all, in the catalogue of Scripture passages condemning violence (about which more below), we meet over and over the idea that the evil are defined as those who are “filled with violence” who “love violence,” whom “violence covers like a garment” who are “set upon violence.” Evil men, then, are defined not by the fact that they resort to violence, but that they seek violence, they enjoy violence, they love violence. Such an attitude, it seems obvious, cannot comport with love of enemies, the theme of this chapter. To love an enemy is to desire his salvation, not his destruction. Sometimes it may prove impossible to save an enemy, while also saving others whom he is bent on destroying, and the righteous man will have to regretfully resort to force. And yet such a man will certainly not appear to us as a lover of violence, a man defined by violence or covered with it as a garment. The key, then, is a transformation of the heart, love instead of hate, and this makes all the difference, even when the external action—i.e., shooting an intruder—appears identical. (Of course, as always, this doesn’t mean that the internal change yields no discernible external consequences: the development of just war theory is precisely an attempt to apply the principle of love of enemies in such a way as to define the external conditions under which violence may be justified, and the external limits of what sorts of violence may be justly deployed.)
Jones, however, proves unwilling to make use of this inward emphasis, or rather, he continually equivocates when he approaches the subject, an equivocation that continues throughout the book. We have met it already, for instance, in his polemic on the one hand against an inward faith concerned with thinking the right thoughts rather than doing the right actions, and on the other hand against Mammon as being characterized by a focus on outward appearances, rather than inward realities. These themes continue in this chapter, which opens with an attack on Christians who “act as though ideas are stronger than love” (76). Of course, we might think that both ideas and love are essentially inward realities, but then he attacks those who “reduce loving one’s enemies to a purely private thing, not public policy, and spiritual, for the most part, for nice enemies, interior, yeah, and spiritual, sometimes” (77). He goes on to mock St. Augustine (or a caricatured version of him) for arguing that “We can persecute and kill our enemies if we do it with a good motive” (78), and explains that “Jesus, however, spoke very much about an outward, visible loving of one’s enemy. . . . [L]oving one’s enemy means showing outward, positive mercy—sunshine, rain, food, drink” (78).
And yet he, after quoting the Sermon on the Mount, describes it as Jesus “moving beyond the externalism of the old code,” and shortly afterward repeats his line about how Mammon “lives by surfaces and visible cause and effect” (87). He goes on to argue that the shift from Old Covenant to New Covenant is “the shift from external rules to a genuine morality engrained in the heart” (95). He elaborates:
That external-internal move is exactly what Scripture itself promised about the New Covenant: ‘I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts (Jere. 31:31). The New Covenant would bring a new maturity, adulthood. As Paul explained the external-internal divide of the Old and New Covenants, the new is ‘Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. . . . for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life’ (2 Cor. 3:3, 6)” (96).
Despite this clear statement, which resembles traditional, orthodox Christian interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, he at many other points in the chapter falls into speaking as if the shift from Old to New is from external rules against *most* violence to external rules against *all* violence.
This confusing equivocation is not without fairly serious consequences. For one, it leads him to set Scripture against itself, as a cacophony of voices difficult or impossible to reconcile. For another, it leads him into a seriously overrealized eschatology (a concern I have already highlighted in several previous installments of this review).
Let us consider the first fairly briefly before turning our attention, in most of the remainder of this post, to the second.
At one point in the chapter, opposing the idea that the Old Testament is somehow friendly to violence, he asks us to
consider a few passages and watch how unqualified and general they are in their simplicity. Modern defenders of ‘good’ violence will often insert language of motives and justifications, without giving blanket condemnations of violence. It’s interesting that many of the following don’t attempt such a distinction. They simply speak of violence in general, without dividing between good and bad violence. . . . [He quotes 20 example verses] Typical defenders of violence don’t speak in these simple categories. These broad, Old Covenant condemnations of violence, for example, don’t distinguish carefully between ‘terrorists’ and ‘freedom fighters.’ They don’t seem to understand the line between muggers and military heroes. They just seem to present us with God’s opposition to violence as a whole” (80-81).
We would not be going too far to paraphrase this remarkable passage as, “If we isolate individual sentences and deprive them of all their qualifications, motives, and distinctions, we find ourselves with statements that lack any qualifications, motives, or distinctions.” The word “violence” is a notoriously slippery one, capable of a wide range of definitions, and is frequently used in heated rhetorical contexts; indeed, it would not be at all unusual for any of these so-called “defenders of violence” that Jones references to speak in equally unqualified terms: “We need to put an end to violence in the Middle East.” “Violence against women has to stop.” “Our godless society is obsessed with violence.” Almost anyone making such statements would generally support a well-trained police force, a military, and perhaps even capital punishment and gun rights, and most of us would not consider this prima facie inconsistent. We would immediately know from the context of their statements that they did not mean to oppose, say, a Lebanese pedestrian roundhouse-kicking an assailant who jumped him with a knife, or a policeman putting a woman in handcuffs and escorting her to prison if she was caught driving while intoxicated.
With most of the passages Jones lists, however, we don’t even really need to resort to context to realize that they hardly provide “blanket condemnations of violence.” In fact, of the twenty passages, at least twelve fall under the heading that we identified above—namely, identifying the wicked as those who are characterized by or filled with violence, those who lust after it. To conclude from this a blanket condemnation of the use of force would be as rational as equating a statement like “Horny bastards lust after every woman they see” as a blanket condemnation of sex. Some of the other passages simply present a situation of violence as an undesirable state of affairs (e.g. “He will redeem their life from oppression and violence” (Ps. 72:14)), a statement few people of goodwill would have trouble agreeing with. Still others are clearly condemning lawless, unjust violence (e.g., “Do no wrong and do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place” (Jer. 22:3)), a situation that the same writers want godly kings to correct. How would godly kings correct such injustice? Well, by punishing the evildoers; indeed, sometimes even killing them, depending on the offense. And yet Jones wants a blanket condemnation of violence that doesn’t distinguish private from public, or muggers from heroes. How then do we explain that three of Jones’s proof-texts come from psalms of David, a man who had no hesitation in slaying the wicked (as Jones goes on to note shortly afterward)? David clearly seemed to think that the violence he was condemning was categorically different from the violence of the righteous. And yet Jones immediately goes on to pooh-pooh such a distinction:
One way to mesh these blanket condemnations of violence with the sanctioned violence would simply be to force a distinction between good and bad violence. For example, one could say that all the verses above speak only of the wicked, and so only the wicked do this thing called violence. The good don’t do violence but ‘coercive defense’ or something. That seems pretty contrived, though, a way of forcing the text to say what we want” (81-82).
Jones would seem to consider any attempt to read Scripture as a unit “contrived,” for he goes on, “Instead of trying to flatten or force texts [i.e., “exegete them”] it makes more sense to note multiple voices in Scripture.” Jones notes such “multiple voices” within the Old Testament, and between the Old Testament and the New. But he then attempts his own reconciliation of them via the perennially fuzzy category of “maturity,” as we have glimpsed already:
In a very important sense, then, just as individuals cannot have instant maturity so it is with God’s people. Just as individuals move from an important and necessary world of external rules and spankings to the maturity of virtues driving us from within, so the same with God’s people. We moved from an external code designed to prepare us for virtues of New Covenant adulthood. Maturity is largely the shift from external rules to a genuine morality ingrained in the heart. Even in the New Covenant, children pass through a childhood of external rules and codes until they begin to internalize God’s ways and make them their own. Even in the New Covenan, children pass through a childhood of external rules and codes until they begin to internalize God’s ways and make them their own. In that time of immaturity, too, play-violence of war games and sports serves an important function in growing up. We all pass through the Old Covenant to get to the New. But at every point of childhood, parents long for the Spirit to write himself on the hearts of our children. We aim to move beyond the external chastisements of spankings and threats in order to see them win maturity. We want them to grow out of the immaturity of war. That external-internal move is exactly what Scripture itself promised about the New Covenant. (94-95)
This is all true and well and good, a metaphor drawn directly from Scripture (Gal. 4), and yet it is not clear how it supports the conclusion of a “blanket condemnation of all violence.” After all, Jones’s own example here shows that just because we are in the New Covenant, this doesn’t mean we’ve arrived at the new heavens and the new earth. We still have to grow from childhood to adulthood, and children still need to be ruled over, and sometimes restrained by force, by their parents. It ought to go without saying, moreover, that there are still plenty of adults amongst us who remain children—immature, undisciplined, a danger to themselves and others. If we had all reached the full stature of Christ-likeness, had perfectly internalized the law, then of course any use of force would be unnecessary; but we aren’t there yet.
Jones, however, wishes to speak as if we were, and this brings us to our second issue of over-realized eschatology. After Jesus’s death, he says, “It is a new world. And in this new world, the people of God don’t fight with carnal weapons” (89). The difference between us and the Old Covenant is that “the fullness of Triune life had not been revealed to them. . . . They were bound to fail because, as a people, they could not fully obey from the heart the way the new people with Christ and the Spirit could” (95). Given that Jones has already spent much of this book attacking the mainstream of the church throughout history for failing to fully obey from the heart, it is hard to understand how he can suddenly put so much confidence in this church as to imagine it living as the fully mature kingdom of Christ. And if the church remains weakened by immaturity, how much more so the world as a whole. The fact is, it is not “a new world”; it is not a world in which “nation shall not raise up sword against nation,” however much we might want it to be. Of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t try to move it in that direction whenever possible, only that, to the extent that we are still in a world of immaturity and imperfection, we would still seem to be, to that extent, in the world where godly uses of violence are an appropriate way of resisting evil.
The only way to avoid such a conclusion would be to draw a very sharp distinction between church and world, and to suggest that the latter really doesn’t matter, and should be left to its own destruction, so that the Christian’s entire existence is to be understood as lived in the sphere of the former. Jones, it turns out, makes both of these moves.
To speak of a world without weapons, a world without military academies, was to speak of a place radically different from the Old Covenant. The New Covenant kindom would be distinct, with a radically different way of life. And that’s exactly what Christ’s kingdom, the church, became. It became a weaponless place. Pastors and seminaries don’t teach carnal warfare. As an international body, the church is not a place in which nation lifts up sword against nation” (83).
Because of this, he argues that soldiers, in the New Covenant, are to give up their arms and resign their profession (never mind, he says, that neither John the Baptist, Jesus, nor the apostles ever tell them to do so; this is an argument from silence, and it was so obvious they were supposed to resign that of course nobody felt the need to mention it): “They’re unemployed in the new kingdom. The church has no need of their services” (86).
Of course, Christians (or at least Protestants) have always understood that pastors aren’t warriors, that the church does not preach the gospel at gunpoint, that as the ambassador of the king of peace, the church confronts the enemies of the gospel with the sword of the Spirit, not physical swords. But Christians have generally also understood that because the world is not coextensive with the church, and Christians live their lives within the present world, even while preaching the world to come, they may bear arms against earthly enemies. To be sure, Paul says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,” but as Jones himself admits, the “we” here is the apostles, the ambassadors of the gospel, in their capacity as ambassadors of the gospel. No good Christian (or at any rate, no good Protestant) who bears arms in the defense of his country should think that he is fighting for the kingdom of Christ, and that the blows he deals are pulling down the strongholds of Satan. But the mere fact that he’s bearing arms does not mean he’s joined Satan’s team.
The implied ‘they’ [that is, the people who use carnal weapons] is the realm of Mammon, Rome, Herodians, Babylon, Egypt, and the whole domination gang. On this divide, ‘we’ the Christians of Christ’s kingdom, the church, do not use carnal weapons, while the world does. But defenders of violence have to clip Paul’s words here. They want to insert the possibility of a Christian state and military. And so they insist that Paul has to mean that Christians don’t use carnal weapons unless they are part of this other realm within Christ’s kingdom where they are politicians and warriors who can in fact use carnal weapons with God’s approval. Christians do and don’t fight with carnal weapons. (91)
There’s really nothing incoherent about this standard Christian teaching (which Jones calls “ethical schizophrenia” (92)) if you don’t equivocate, as Jones does, over “Christ’s kingdom.” The “other realm within Christ’s kingdom” is the temporal kingdom of Christ’s mediated rule, not the spiritual kingdom that is signified in the visible church. But Jones says, introducing Romans 13, “the presumed hang-out for defenders of state violence,” that “such advocates argue for a realm within Christ’s kingdom that does not fall under the commands against carnal weapons or enemy love. In some parts of the church, Christians are obligated to love their enemies but in other parts they can be obligated to kill those same enemies” (91). Jones here seems to be willfully equivocating on the term “church”; only in the sense of church as the multitude of Christian believers on earth can we speak of Christians killing in “part of the church,” and in that sense, this is a perfectly coherent statement, because this is a statement about Christians in the world.
Jones, however, doesn’t believe that Christians are, or should be, in the world, if by that we mean any kind of social or political order outside the gathered congregation of saints. Why? Because “unlike most of us, Paul saw the church as a social order sufficient to itself, ultimately without the need of a civil realm. . . . The realm outside of the church was virtually nothing. It had no serious relevance or say over Christ’s kingdom, the church.” Jones’s prooftext for this remarkable claim is 1 Corinthians 6, where Paul rebukes the Corinthians for airing their quarrels in front of pagan magistrates. As Jones narrates it, “The Corinthians had given legitimacy to pagan civil magistrates outside the church, and Paul found this scandalous. He rebuked the Corinthians for not being a whole kingdom, able to resolve civil matters within itself” (90). Looking at the passage, though, it’s hard to see that this is Paul’s concern. Rather, his point is “To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Cor. 6:7). Paul is scandalized (a) that the Corinthians are having this sort of selfish quarrel and lawsuit with one another at all, (b) that, having such quarrels, they are unable to resolve them peaceably, by mediation of brothers within the community, and that (c) this means that they are parading their contentiousness, and inability to resolve conflict, in front of the pagans to whom they are supposed to be displaying Christ. Paul would like Christians to be the sort of people who don’t need juridical oversight. But Jones’s solution is to politicize the church:
Paul divided between two social realms, two kingdoms, but not the way some Reformation traditions do. It is not a divide between the church and a neutral state. The church is supposed to be able to do it all. The church has no need of an unbelieving or so-called neutral state. The church is a kingdom to itself. Like Christ, Paul divided between God and Mammon, the church and Mammon, not Christian church-state vs. non-Christian church-state. The church is to be a fully functioning city, a ‘holy city, a New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.’ That’s the picture in Jesus and Paul’s mind (90-91).
I have to say that I see no biblical evidence that something like this was “the picture in Jesus and Paul’s mind,” not merely on exegetical grounds, but because I have a great deal of trouble figuring out what this looks like as a picture in Doug Jones’s mind. I’m going to dispense for now with the snarky (but in the end, serious) questions about whether the church being “a fully functioning city” entails that it has its own garbage collection, sewer, and postal service systems, and just focus on the juridical aspect. If the church is fully sufficient unto itself for the judicial oversight of its members, then one of three things has to be true: (1) its members must all be sufficiently saintlike as to never resort to violence themselves, or at the very least, to be immediately responsive to rebuke; (2) its admonitions, rebukes, and strictures must be supernaturally effectual, capable of bringing every sinner to full repentance and a sober and orderly life in short order; (3) it must resort to physically coercive means of its own, for the punishment and/or restraint of errant members. Jones is clear that the last is not true, saying, “But Christ’s city does not rule like Mammon’s. It does not rule with violence” (91). Jones also seems clear that (1) is not true, for, as we have seen, he thinks that the church in reality has been, and continues to be, deeply enmeshed in violence. And indeed, when he says, “As an international body, the church is not a place in which nation lifts up sword against nation” he then adds, parenthetically, “(except where the church has regressed into Old Covenant immaturity).” So we have to put our faith in (2)—about which I will say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Sure, I like to think, as much as anybody, that the nonviolent, purely proclamatory rebukes of the Church are aided by God’s Spirit to bring repentance far more often and far more effectively than the natural mind might expect. But they ain’t perfect. Until such time as they are, I have to say that the church does have need of “an unbelieving or so-called neutral state.”
Another point, however, needs to be made here, if only in passing. To give to the church any juridical authority, even if expressed only by rebuke, is to admit that we are simul justus et peccator, and inasmuch as we are peccator, in need of some kind coercion. The rebukes and exclusions of the church are, after all, a form of coercion intended to discipline errant members (if Foucault is to be believed, a more repressive form than physical coercion). Once we dispense with the Pollyanna vision of a church populated only by saints, the claim that “The church is supposed to be able to do it all” ends up being a call to invest the ministers of the church with all the disciplinary authority that Jones is taking from the civil authority, in order to bring these sinners in line through verbal coercion and social exclusion. Most of the times this has been tried in church history, the result has proved more oppressive and domineering than the coercion of civil authorities.
In any case, though, even if it were somehow the case that the church were perfect enough to have no need of the world, the world would still have need of Christians. To say that “the realm outside of the church is virtually nothing” and hence Christians have no responsibility to live as Christians within it, redeeming its structures and ameliorating the injustice within them, is simply not the teaching of Scripture, Old or New Testaments.
I’d like to say a final word about why all of this matters—matters deeply, in fact—from a pastoral perspective. We might say that the problem with this chapter ultimately is not that it’s too broad and sweeping, but that it’s too narrow. Jones ends up trimming down “the way of enemy love” to “the way of nonviolence,” except with the mystifying qualifier at the end that he isn’t really opposed to violence across the board, just apparently all the violence that other Christians have ever justified. But for the Christian who takes the Sermon on the Mount seriously, “the way of enemy love” is much more than mere nonviolence. It’s about not taking someone to court when they ripped you off in some petty business transaction. It’s about not defending your ego when someone else says something nasty about you to a friend. It’s about not yelling angry curses at the driver who cuts you off in traffic, or muttering threats under your breath about the co-worker who weaseled his way into a promotion ahead of you. It’s about not excommunicating all your theological opponents or condemning them of heresy on your blogging soapbox. It’s about not fighting with your big sister or harboring bitterness against your parents. It’s about a thousand little things in the Christian life which—let’s be frank—we are pretty poor at doing.
I’ve quoted already in this review, and I’ll quote again, some powerful words from my friend Matt Anderson:
Only most of us are just starting out on this road to faithfulness, even if we’ve grown up in the church. The language of “radical” and the examples that get used of saints and heroes presuppose that we have not been faithful even with what we have. Yet their solution is to amplify the stakes, to call us to be faithful with much. You can see it in Stearnes’ piece: “Jesus was a martyr, and so were the early Christians! Why aren’t we being martyred, too?” One moment Christians are struggling to explain to their neighbor why, no, staying married isn’t the end of happiness–only that’s not enough, we have to go figure out how to be crucified, too. The reasons for the absence of martyrdom in the West are complex, and its disappearance might be tied to our own mediocrity. Yet such martyrdom may have moved into secret, into the hidden details of life that seem too insignificant to care about. Forget dying for our faith: many of us would do well to not fudge our taxes.
But therein lies my point: the ordinary moments are moments which intersect with eternity, where the meaning of our lives hangs. We’ll be judged for every errant word, yet many of us pray and write as though there is nothing more cheap than a few syllables to throw away. Focusing on the mundane isn’t a call to comfort: it’s a terrifying call to remember the judgment which we stand beneath, a judgment that exists when we drive past our neighbor whose car is stranded in the night. “You have never met a mere mortal,” Lewis wrote. Nor have we had an ordinary day.”
Sure, we need to work on the big gnarly issues like just war theory (or whether there is such a thing), and capital punishment and legitimate self-defense. As someone pursuing a career in political theology and Christian ethics, my job security depends on us wrestling with such issues. But honestly, I think we’re going to get a lot further with the answers if we start with the problems nearer to home. Let’s begin with learning to love your enemies in the next cubicle or the next pew, and see where this takes us. Maybe once we start figuring out what love looks like on that scale, we’ll see more clearly to figure out what it looks like on a global scale.