Preston Sprinkle, who is perhaps best known for co-authoring the bestselling book, Erasing Hell, with Francis Chan, has recently published a new book advocating Christian nonviolence which I think many of you will find quite challenging and thought-provoking. The following post is adapted Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013). Enjoy!
Everyone in America knows the catchy slogan: What Would Jesus Do (WWJD)?
Of all the Christian memorabilia donned by the church, these bracelets and T-shirts have remained at the top of the list for quite sometime. For only $5.99, you too can show the world that you follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to do what Jesus would do when faced with temptation.
The apostles too asked the question “What Would Jesus Do?” only they answered it quite differently than many Americans do. The apostles didn’t appeal to Jesus’s life to encourage believers to read their Bibles, do their devotions, or abstain from sexual temptation—all virtuous things, mind you. Instead, they pervasively and unashamedly drew upon Jesus’s nonviolent response to evil as a model for believers to follow.
More than any other character trait of Jesus, His suffering by the hands of evil people became the central feature of cross-bearing Christians because it was the heartbeat of our cross-bearing Lord.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus never retaliates and always loves His enemies even when He is violently attacked. When He is unjustly accused of treason, His accusers “spit in his face,” “struck him” and “slapped him” (Matt. 26:67). No retaliation; only love. Moments later, Roman soldiers spit on Him and pound His head with a stick (27:30). Still no retaliation; only forgiveness.
Jesus therefore models His own command to not “resist evil … but turn the other cheek.” He could call down a legion of angels to deliver Him, but He refuses to confront violence with violence (26:53). While on the cross He prays for his oppressors: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus’s life is peppered with violent attacks, yet He never responds with violence. He embraces suffering, not because He is weak, not because He can’t do anything about it, but because suffering is the God-ordained pathway to resurrection glory.
Now, you may think, Yes, but the reason Jesus doesn’t resist His death is because He has to die for the sin of the world. This is correct. There is uniqueness to the atoning value of the cross. His nonresistance is a theological necessity: He has to die for the sin of the world.
But that’s not all that’s going on. Jesus’s nonviolent, non-retaliatory journey to the cross is also a pattern for us to imitate.
When Jesus talks about His suffering on the cross, He commands His followers to do the same: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). When Jesus washes His disciples’ feet—even the feet of His betrayer—He tells His followers to do the same: “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:15). Again, just after He predicts His crucifixion, He tells His followers, “Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:44). We are slaves of all. Jesus rebukes James and John for their thirst for violent retaliation (Luke 9:51–56), encourages His followers to endure patiently when violently attacked (Mark 13:9–13), and disarms Peter when he violently resists evil by hacking off the ear of a man trying to arrest Jesus (Matt. 26:52).
Nonviolence is the upside down rhythm of Christianity, the direction of the river that flows in Eden.
And the New Testament highlights Jesus’s nonviolent response to violence as a pattern to follow more than any other aspect of His ministry. Read Romans 12, 1 Peter 2-3 (or all of 1 Peter, actually), Hebrews 10-12, or the book of Revelation in its entirety. Believers who desire to Do What Jesus Would Do don’t conquer their enemies with swords, guns, or drones, but with non-retaliation and love. The apostolic witness is pervasive and clear.
Let’s put this in the perspective of WWJD. Paul celebrates the gift of celibacy, arguing that a celibate person can be hugely effective for the kingdom (1 Cor. 7). But Paul does not use Jesus’s celibate life as an example to follow. Jesus threw him a softball but Paul doesn’t swing. Again, Paul says that he could refrain from working and be supported by the ministry (1 Cor. 9:6–12), but again he doesn’t appeal to Jesus, who did the same (Luke 8:1–3). Also, Jesus was a man of prayer and often stole away time to pray, and yet Paul—in all his talk on prayer—never appeals to Jesus as a model for praying. This is fascinating: the “what would Jesus do” cliché is rarely echoed by the New Testament writers.
Rarely but not never. Because when it comes to enemy-love and our response to evil, the New Testament writers race to the life and teaching of Christ as the pattern for believers to imitate.
The New Testament is ubiquitously clear: don’t retaliate with evil for evil; do good to those who hate you; embrace your enemy with a cross-shaped, unyielding divine love. Such a rich and pervasive trajectory—from Jesus’s Sermon, modeled through His life, commended to His disciples, taken up by the apostles, and demanded of the early church—shows that non-retaliation and enemy-love are not some insignificant whisper lingering on the edge of Jesus’s ethical landscape. And if American Evangelicals are not readily known for such enemy-love (that includes you, Al-Qaeda), then they are not Doing What Jesus Did. If there are exceptions to this—assassinating Hitler, for instance—these exceptions must be seen as deviating from the dominant rhythm of Christianity.
So, what do you think? Should nonviolence factor into our consideration of what Jesus would do? Why doesn't it more often? What are some obstacles in the way of a more consistent nonviolent Christian ethic?
Be sure to check out Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence. You can read the first chapter for free on your iPad or iPhone. Be sure to follow Preston on Twitter or check out his Web site.