The strongest counter to my argument that the Bible teaches an ethic that disallows us from taking another person’s life, even in the defense of oneself or another, is found in the episode about buying swords that several mentioned. I am going to push pause and answer that question about the interaction in Luke 22 as best as I can before finishing our series next week addressing the question of violence and the military.
The exchange between Jesus and his disciples happens right after the Last Supper and before Jesus prays on the Mount of Olives (and is subsequently arrested by the Roman cohort).
And [Jesus] said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They [the disciples] said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”[i]
This is the clearest biblical text that supports self-defense.[ii] It seems pretty cut and dry. Jesus tells his disciples to buy swords. So, how would I interpret this text?
1. A Visual Journey of How Amazon Became the World's Biggest Retailer: This is an interesting as it is visually compelling.
2. My Son's Down Syndrome Showed Me the Real Imago Dei: This is a well written and important article. Corey Latta reflects, "The longer I looked along the beam of my experience with Down syndrome, the more I realized that my propensity for sin was enhanced by an intellect, cunning, and premeditation wonderfully absent in my brothers and sisters who have it. People with Down syndrome neither understand nor practice malice, greed, jealousy, or deception the way others do. They speak out of an unmasked honesty. They love without the pretentious and self-protective impairments that taint our relationships."
3. Why God Still Works Through Fools Like Sampson: Fred Smith minces no words on what he thinks of Sampson and what that tells us about God, "The writer of Judges doesn’t hide any of that or even attempt to justify or condemn his behavior. It is not a tale with a moral. It is not a warning. It is simply a puzzling illustration of how God’s ways are not ours. But if there is hope for Samson, there is hope for us when we have misused our strengths, wasted our gifts, not lived up to God’s calling, and even harmed our friends and family. God can redeem and he does."
4. Evangelism is Changing: Reflecting on Sam Chan's new book, Jeremy Bouma shares 12 ways that evangelism is changing today. He shares this about the news of salvation, "Various evangelism methods have emphasized differing benefits from salvation: deliverance from hell, forgiveness of sins, the gift of heaven. 'But Graham Cole,' Chan observes, 'believes that the umbrella metaphor for all of these salvation metaphors is peace or shalom' (84). Peace, connecting with the ultimate existential cry of every heart."
5. The Bizarre Physics of Fire Ants: How is it possible that ants can act like liquid? Unreal.
While ideas can be clean, life is messy. We have begun wrestling with what the Bible says about violence. I have made the case that God calls us to nonviolence. While we can all agree on that admonition to nonviolence in most circumstances, what do we do in the midst of all sorts of situations that it appears that violence is necessary?
Arguing along with Preston Sprinkle and his book, Fight, I believe that while there are circumstances that physical restraint is appropriate, even physical restraint that might injure someone, we are never given biblical permission to use violent force that ends in death.
That is a position I come to tentatively and is an issue of conscience, not law. It is, in fact, a topic that Pastor Greg and I have respectful disagreement on.
I recognize from the outset that the positions I will be setting forth here are not only unpopular positions, they are minority positions. I respect those who come to different conclusions. I only recently changed my mind on what I believe is biblical. I hope you read charitably and with an understanding that I have no desire to stoke the flames of discord here, but rather to earnestly seek what God calls us to. If you haven’t read my first two posts that builds the case for nonviolence from the Old Testament and Jesus’ life, I would encourage you to do so.
So, let’s deal with the more difficult situations: self-defense or defense of someone else, or the use of violence while serving in the military. We will deal with the first question in this post and the question of the use of violence in the context of military service next week.
Let me begin with the fact that I believe that it is acceptable to use non-lethal force to neutralize aggression. So, I am not encouraging that a Christian be completely passive, but rather that there are restraints on what we can do.
An armed man enters your home. You wake up and hear footsteps in the living room. What is appropriate action? Everyone can agree the best first step is to call 911. But what if the situation escalates before the police arrive? Let’s raise it to the highest stakes: the gunman enters your room and, at gunpoint, threatens violence against your family.
There are two questions to ask: first, what is the ethical response for a Christian? And, second, what response will prove most successful?
In his 1961 Inaugural Address John F Kennedy famously said, "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate." For most of us, negotiation is almost synonymous with fear. How do we move to a place of negotiating with confidence and peace? Getting to Yes is as good a place to start that process as any I could imagine.
Getting to Yes was first published in 1981. In this, the third edition of this time tested book, the authors begin acknowledging the flattening of the workplace. If anything, flatter organizations make Fisher and Ury's work all the more important. It's not surprising then, that they note that "a generation ago, the term 'negotiation' also had an adversarial connotation. In contemplating a negotiation, the common question in people's minds was, 'Who is going to win and who is going to lose?'" Fisher and Ury suggest there is a better way in Getting to Yes and then show you how to get there.
As a pastor, you might think that negotiation isn't a skill I have to use very often, but Fisher and Ury's book was not only helpful to me in my personal life (over the past three years I have negotiated a home sale, solar panel contract, a car purchase, and a job contract). But our lives are filled with negotiation. Even in my role as a pastor, negotiation is a daily occurrence, from negotiating sermon series to recruiting people into ministry roles, to navigating ministry direction, to negotiating staff culture and church vision documents. Simply put, we all need Fisher and Ury's book.
In their clearly outlined book, they suggest that the most significant problem is that we bargain over positions. To transform our ability to successfully negotiate we must do the following four things:
1) Separate the people from the problem;
2) Focus on interests, not positions;
3) Invent options for mutual gain;
4) Insist on using objective criteria.
There is a strange dissonance today. In a time where we embrace conversations about developing our leadership and influence, we are allergic to power. Andy Crouch wants us to have an honest conversation about power and recognize that it is a gift given by God and “rooted in creation… intimately tied to image bearing.”
The oft-quoted Lord Acton quote, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” shows our distrust of power (the fact that we usually drop the “tends to” in the quote shows our hand even more. We are cynical about power. But we typically define power too narrowly, in ways that exempts us from possessing it. But that is false.
What is power? “Power is simply (and not so simply) the ability to participate in that stuff-making sense-making process that is the most distinctive thing that human beings do.” We ought not flinch, then, from owning up to the fact that we all have power. In fact, if we did not have power, even our purest impulses for love and justice would be impotent (the word itself meaning “without power”).
And we serve a God who we worship, in part, because he is all-powerful. If God was not omnipotent, he would “not be a God worth worshiping,” unable to bring justice. The question, then, is how to we steward our God-reflecting power well? How are we leveraging our power for justice? How are we creating margins in our power in Sabbath? And how are we leaning into institutions which utilize power in holy ways and chasten our desire to play god?
If you want to see just how entrenched our political ideologies are to our identity, meander over to the reviews of JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy over at Goodreads. If you prefer to retain your sanity, stay with me here. Vance’s book was timely. Released in 2016, for many it became a window into understanding the Rust Belt that propelled Donald Trump to victory. Vance, while a Republican himself, doesn’t write the book as a defense of conservative Rust Belt politics (he’s quite critical at times) and certainly it is not written with Donald Trump in mind. And yet, in our politically overheated climate, this is certainly how many have read Vance’s book.
Vance’s book was about something much smaller and much bigger than explaining the 2016 election. He writes the book to provide a window into an area of the country that, while large, is largely anonymous to many Americans, myself included. “Americans call them hillbillies, rednecks, or white trash,” Vance says, “I call them neighbors, friends and family.”
Vance, who hails from Middletown, Ohio, and has roots in Eastern Kentucky invites us into his Appalachian world. These are the descendants of the Scotch-Irish, who dug America’s coal, forged America’s steel and built America’s automobiles. They were faithful churchgoers and fiercely patriotic. But with the shuttering of coal mines and the decline of industrial America, it’s a people who have struggled to enter the 21st century and whose self-perception as hard working and devout Christians has been hollowed out. The data shows a people who are, despite how they project themselves, deeply reliant on government assistance, and AWOL from the church. As opportunity has vanished, so has church attendance and belief in the American Dream. It has been replaced by broken families, liquor, painkillers, and heroin.
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