It is always moving to me to hear at our Christmas eve services, the Isaiah prophecies, come true in Jesus. We hear it in Handel’s Messiah and we hear it in the other ancient texts we read as we prepare to hear the nativity story from the gospels. Yes, indeed, Jesus is the One who brings peace. Swords into plowshares. Every army boot used in battle shall be burned up in the Lord’s zeal. “No one will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.” And the angels, who we have reason to suspect were in on the cosmic implications of the unfolding story, sang “peace on Earth.” Good will to all. Jesus is, indeed, the Prince of Peace.
We like this stuff, surely, unless we are filled with unbelief and scoff at the Lord’s Holy Word. But yet, some of us need to cry “Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who sometimes wonders: can the implications of this be lived out? Can we even imagine a faith that calls for not destroying our enemies, but our own implements of destruction? Can we wish “good will” to everybody, including enemies? Will we even pray for them, as Jesus commanded? Can we do this in our personal lives, in family conflicts, at work, and at church? An acquaintance of ours, Jeff Rosenau, wrote a very clear-headed and Bible-based book on “speaking the truth in love” and resolving conflicts in the precise manner the Bible teaches which we highly recommend. It’s called When Christians Act Like Christians: God’s Call to Christlike Civility (Accountability Ministries; $12.95) and carries a forward by conflict mediator trainer Ken Sande.
But the Isaiah passages and the angels song certainly imply more than just getting along with people who irritate you. This is a big story, audacious promises of something that can only be called political, that effects the nations.
I have long struggled with the Biblical teaching on war and peace, and the historic debates between those who think that some war is perhaps sadly necessary, and those who think that the gospel calls us to a posture and practice of nonviolence. I’ve been glad that some on both sides of that discussion agree that—just like we heard from Isaiah, and from the Christmas angels (and in many of our best carols)—God is bringing peace, and we are called to be agents of reconciliation. We are happiest when we are God’s peacemakers; blessed Matthew calls it. Catholic social teaching says we should give a preferential option for the poor. Some of us think that, also, we should lean into a preferential option for peace.
So, in light of the Advent hopes, the Christmas readings, and those carols ringing still in our ears (I hope as you transitioned from Advent to Christmas you didn’t put away those Christmas CDs as now is the time to ponder them deeply) here are just a few of our huge selection of books about God’s shalom, peacemaking, violence and non-violence. If these Scriptures that I trust you heard in the last few days are worming their way into your heart, start with one or two of these. Or call us for others. We have every imaginable perspective on the bigger topic, but for now, here are a few about the Biblical texts. Tolle legge. Pax vobiscum.
Story of God, The Story of Us: Getting Lost and Found in the Bible Sean Gladding (IVP) $17.00 When studying any specific topic it is always wise to see it in its broadest Biblical framework and this creative book shows–with very colorful writing (and a pretty edgy little six session DVD curriculum)–reminds us that the whole Bible is an unfolding narrative including creation-covenant-freedom-descent-reconciliation and the like. God is bringing Christ’s Kingship to bear, reconciling all things. We get to play a part. Being a blessed peacemaker is only one part of our calling, but if we don’t know the big picture of the Bible, we won’t take up our callings as we point to His redemptive work in the world. Nice. I’m hearing strains of Silent Night–that line that Christ brings “the dawn of redeeming grace.”
Salvation Means Creation Healed: The Ecology of Sin and Grace Howard Synder & Joel Scandrett (Wipt & Stock) $31.00 I’ve promoted this handsome, over-sized book before, but think it a fine place to start to get at this topic of peacemaking. Snyder & Scandrett insist that God created the world and has no intentions of destroying the works of his hands, that which God spoke into being. No, in Christ, creation is healed, restored, regained, sin is defeated, not the goodness of God’s realm. Snyder is a Wesley scholar and offers serious explanation why we still find it hard to imagine this “new creation” vision. As many have explained, ideas that aren’t consistent with the major teaching of the Bible (about heaven, for instance, or total destruction of the cosmos or a rapture) were introduced early to the church and we’ve mis-read the Bible on this hugely important cornerstone of a Christian worldview ever since. If we don’t think God is going to heal the planet, how will we ever get to think he could heal the enmity between tribes or nations? Here is a PDF file of an article he wrote which gives you a quick sense of his approach in this important work. Let heaven and nature sing, indeed!
Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing Emmanuel Katongole & Chris Rice (IVP) $15.00 The whole set of six books from the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School are all worth reading (they pair a scholar and practitioner on a variety of aspects of reconciliation.) This is the first one in the series, setting up and providing Biblical warrant for their grand project that followers of Christ are to be busy reconciling folk in all sorts of ways. This is such a solid, sweet, clear, good book, I wish every church had a study group on it. (The others, include a study of weakness (including what we can learn from those with disabilities) called Living Gently in a Violent World by Stanley Hauerwas & Jean Vanier, a great book on forgiveness (with some stunning stories about gang violence and urban reconciliation) a book on racial justice by John Perkins and Charles Marsh, and a must-read on hospitality, friendship, and mutuality called Friendship in
Mission.) If Christ’s incarnation begins a new era where sinners are redeemed and the divided are brought near (Ephesians 2:13-18) and a new people are formed, then these are the practices we must learn.
Old Testament Ethics for the People of God Christopher J.H. Wright (IVP) $30.00 I a glad this big tome was just released in paperback. At over 500 pages it is, as one Cambridge reviewer said “truly a magnum opus.” John Goldingay notes that Wright “has been one of the most significant writers on Old Testament ethics in recent decades.” This opens up the ethical principles embedded in the Older Testament narratives by using a three-fold framework (theological, social, and economic.) There is a broad spectrum of relevant texts (and contrasting opinions of their relevance and/or application) and Wright does a spectacular job navigating the rough wars. Again, it seems to me that exploring peacemaking in the Bible must, by necessity, be seen as part of a broader social ethic, related to the whole counsel of God. There is good stuff in here on politics and peace, justice and human rights and such, but it’s strength is the big picture, the methodology, the helpful way it points us towards living faithfully as the people of God in a broken world. “The chains shall he break for the slave is our brother, and in his name all oppression will cease.”
Neglected Voices: Peace in the Old Testament David Leiter (Herald Press) $16.99 Thank goodness for this kind of illuminating Biblical research on peace in the Hebrew Scriptures. Too often we say that the Old Testament has wrath and war, but the New Testament is full of peace and love. Not true (on either simplistic account.) Yet, it is true that many simply haven’t plumbed the depths of the seeds of peace in the Older Testament. In this splendid work, Leiter shows four different sorts of peacemaking texts in the Old Testament, introducing us to several “ideologies” of peace. As Sister Patricia McDonald (author of God and Violence, a book I reviewed years ago) writes, “Leiter opens up the Old Testament as a significant resource for those committed to making peace. (He) demonstrates that the theme of peace cuts across the literary genres of narrative, prophecy, legal texts, proverbs, and psalms, and offers an unexpected range of strategies for raising consciousness and posing questions about social justice.”
Peace (Understanding Biblical Themes) Walter Brueggemann (Chalice Press) $24.99 Published decades ago under the title Living Towards a Vision, this book is a collection of 16 chapters, grouped in four sections. Part One is “A Vision of Shalom” followed by “A Vision of Freedom”, “A Vision of Order” and “The Shalom Church.” Fascinating, evocative, beautiful, this is vintage preaching and Biblical exposition from one of the most interesting and generative Bible scholars of our generation. He has a way with handling texts, relating them creatively, doing serious cultural background work, and saying it in evocative ways that simply is not matched. It isn’t a Christmas study, of course, but we know that hymn, don’t we, that reminds us that “His law is love and His gospel is peace.” Maybe this is a good study for after Christmas.
Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses Philip Jenkins (HarperOne) $26.99 This is a very new study, a careful analysis by a thoughtful, popular Episcopalian, who thinks it isn’t finally helpful to ignore the violent texts of the Bible (or the Quran.) But how do we deal with them? I’ve reviewed this earlier and promoted it all around this fall. It’s good even if I may not have said everything the way he did. This is not the final word, but it is an important contribution, by a very impressive scholar and churchman who is mostly known for his academic work on the multi-ethnic growth of the global church. He’s a historian, too, and knows that relative peace and proximate justice can be achieved. In his recent work Jenkins has traveled widely and seen all manner of goodness and all manner of gross mayhem all over the world, so he knows what is at stake. Endorsed by a range of thinkers, from Islamic peacemaker Eboo Patel to mainline church scholar and social historian Diana Butler Bass to esteemed evangelical Bible scholar Ben Witherington.
God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? David T. Lamb (IVP) $15.00 I gave this a big thumbs up when it first came out—folks I deeply respect (like Scot McKnight, John Goldingay, Alan Hirsch) raved about it and a number of young adults I know have told me that Lamb is the real deal. He had a scholarly book on Oxford University Press, but here he takes his erudite thinking and offers pastoral wisdom and good insight, walking those with struggles through these very tough passages. This is obviously very important, close to the concerns that Jenkins raises, and answered with evangelical thoughtfulness. Very nicely done.
Christ and Violence Ronald J. Sider (Wipf & Stock)
$15.00 When Herald Press first published this in the mid-70s, I
reviewed it for Sojourners, and they paid me thirty bucks, I think. I was hooked
on reviewing, but the money and byline was only icing on the
cake. This thin volume is, to this day, one of my all-time favorite books, with
Ron at his finest, making a clear case for an evangelical,
cross-centered, Christ-glorifying, Biblically-wise, perspective on
wholistic peacemaking. He uses a bit from Romans 8 in one important chapter, and I
simply cannot escape the implications of his vital apologetic for Biblical
nonviolence. Agree with Biblical pacifism or not, this is a book you should read. How can you not if you sang that song – “Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace!” To “hail” is to exalt; to exalt Jesus is to learn all His ways–I hope you regular read a book about some aspect of the person and teaching and work and Kingdom of Jesus.
Killing Enmity: Violence and the New Testament Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld (Baker Academic) $22.99 For anyone studying peacemaking in the Bible, the quandaries are not only how to understand and interpret the violence of the Older Testament, but also in the Newer. This new book is truly amazing, very learned, theologically rich and altogether rewarding. You may not agree with all Neufeld writes but, as Andrew Lincoln (himself a renowned New Testament scholar) says, “Readers will find it an insightful and indispensable guide.” (I’ve read another important book of his, too, Recovering Jesus, and have browsed his commentary on Ephesians and assure you he is serious, provocative, compelling, and informed. A good writer for this sort of thing, too. Very highly recommended.) The cover art may not be clear enough here but it is a Christ-like crucifixion sculpture made by a Paraguayan artist who fashioned it out of real “shivs” given to Pastor Jonathan Beachy by the prisoners of a notorious prison upon their conversion to Christ and their being “conquered by divine love.”
A Peace Reader edited by E. Morris Sider & Luke Keefer, Jr.
(Evangel Publishing House) $14.95 Since I wanted this post to be mostly resources for Bible study, I wasn’t sure if I should list this
as the last half is mostly application stuff, good articles on
everything from a consistently pro-life view of abortion (Ronald Sider) to how a reconciling peace witness would address racism (Spencer Perkins & Chris Rice) to working
for peace in Northern Ireland (Ronald Wells.) There are chapters about
offering a peace witness in criminal justice, immigration issues, in the
Middle East, amongst conflicted congregations, in how we deal with
children’s play. But the whole first half is a strong set of various
articles on an Anabaptist view of Bible texts (with several of the
chapters written by professors at Messiah College, a Brethren in Christ
college near here.) One need not be Brethren or Mennonite to
appreciate this good insight about specific passages and Biblical themes. Highly
recommended, for clarity, insight, and multi-faceted application, and a
ton of good stories, from international Christians as diverse as
Miroslov Volf, E. Stanley Jones, and Mitsua Fuchida. This is a very accessible book and a good look at the call to Godly peacemaking.
Christian Peace and Nonviolence: A Documentary History Michael Long (Orbis) $40.00 This is nearly magisterial in scope, offering a reader a collection of primary sources on the topic unlike any I’ve seen. This collects excerpts of peacemaking exegesis, sermons, speeches, letters, and essays by folks throughout all of church history. We’ve got other anthologies about nonviolence, and some are quite interesting, but this one is extraordinary. Here is what the publisher says: “From the Sermon on the Mount to the twenty-first century, this comprehensive reader recounts the Christian message of peace and nonviolence.”
Author Mike Long is a professor at Elizabethtown College and deserves many thanks for finding and annotating all these ancient sources (and for keeping the text clean and concise.) Christian Peace and Nonviolence has excerpts of testimonies by the confessors and martyrs of the early church –you know some of these names like Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Cyprian, Basil of Ceasaria, and Benedict of Nursia, to name just a few. It offers pieces by medieval figures like St. Benedict and St. Francis, and Erasmus, and offers some of the famous “Truce of God” documents from the 9th and 10th centuries, which are more significant than many people realize. It naturally offers writings of several Anabaptists (for instance, Conrad Grebel’s letter to Muntzer, and Menno Simon’s defense of the false charges made against him.) As the book moves into the modern period, starting with the 1600’s, there are letters from George Fox and the under-appreciated William Penn, and other Quaker abolitionists. And you will be moved to read Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth.
It is fascinating (and important for many BookNote readers, I’d guess) to see the writings of revivalists and early evangelicals like Alexander Campbell, D. L. Moody, Joshua Blanchard, Charles Spurgeon (yes!) and other early twentieth century witnesses. It records the little known early anti-war documents of the Assembly of God (whose earliest days were pacifist!) The diversity of writers in the middle of the 20th century go from the likes of African American contemplative Howard Thurman to Ammon Hennacy (Dorothy Day’s mentor) to Andre Trocme (do you know the book Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed which is about him and his German congregation who sheltered Jews from Nazis persecution?) and so many more, most of which are thrilling to read and quite eloquent. (Some are important pieces often anthologized such as A. J. Muste’s letter to Reinhold Niebuhr.) Many of those who are more contemporary provide a litany of tmany who have been important voices in my life, from Shelly Douglas, Jim Forest, Phil Berrigan, Richard McSorley and Oscar Romero, and those who influenced them, like William Stringfellow and Thomas Merton and Jacques Ellul. There are other anti-war Catholics like John Dear and Eileen Egan. Happily there are pieces by evangelical friends like Ron Sider, Don Kraybill, and Glen Stassen. There are some quirky pieces, like former fundamentalist like Mel White’s passionate letter to his old friend Jerry Falwell about gay rights, and some recent theological radicals like Carter Hayward. There are historic 20th century leaders like Martin Luther King and Pope John Paul XXIII.
The hope in Christian Peace and Nonviolence, is to show a coherent story in which the peace message of Jesus is restored to a central place, documenting that this is not a minor concern in church history or only the fetish of the few. This is an amazing resource, showing the weird and diverse voices from many corners of the Christian community, who, in one way or another agree: to follow Jesus to to be an agent of His love, which puts us at odds with violence of all sorts, including the machinations of the war-making state and empires that threaten to the the shalom of the common good. Something like “the hopes and fears of all the years…”
Dear readers friends, sisters and brothers, I don’t know how the songs of peace, including some specific anti-war notes, can be missed in nearly any church that reads the classic Christmas texts or sings the carols. There are other texts and other Biblical stories, I know. But over the last days and nights, we have heard these. Do we hear them as true, as good news? As authoritative? Did they capture your imagination, stimulate your mind, break your heart? If so, maybe these books might help.
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