I love me some hyperbole.
Seriously. It’s like the greatest thing ever in the history of mankind.
But, there is no hyperbole intended when I say A Faith Not Worth Fighting For edited by Tripp York and Justin Bronson Barringer is one of the most personally challenging books I have ever read.
The book is a collection of essays on Christian pacifism written by such notable Christian thinkers as Stanley Hauerwas, Thomas Long, Greg Boyd, and Shane Claiborne. While the names of the essayists certainly caught my eye (along with the provocative title), what really grabbed my interest initially was the intentionality and specificity of the book.
Often times, theology books get stuck in the world of the abstract, never really dealing with the practical issues at hand, or worse they intentionally avoid those specific issues altogether.
A Faith Not Worth Fighting For, however, tackles the criticisms and practical implications of Christian pacifism head on. With chapter titles like “What About The Protection Of Third-Party Innocents?”, “What Would You Do If Someone Were Attacking A Loved One?”, and “What About Hitler?” this book cuts right to the chase, right to heart of the issue and the questions those of us who are not pacifists are always asking our pacifists brothers and sisters.
As someone who has always been a pretty firm believe in just war theory, I really appreciated the directness of this approach. These are the very questions that have always kept me from fully embracing Christian pacifism (the authors of this book make a clear distinction between Christian and non-Christian pacifism).
The authors of each essay are bold, honest, and open about their own struggles with pacifism, noting in particular the awkward tension that comes about when you are a pacifist, but your family and friends serve in the military. Whether you agree with their position or not, the direct, raw honesty of the writers gives their arguments a level of credibility that I don’t think would have existed if this book had simply been an exercise in the theoretical.
It was this openness and honesty about their own struggle with pacifism that challenged me to let my just war guard down and allow myself to really listen to what the authors had to say. And what they had to say was pretty simple: “Are you willing to take all of Jesus’ commands seriously?” and ultimately “Do you really believe in the resurrection?”
It is those two questions that seem to be the foundation which ties the book together and it is those two questions that have seriously challenged me to reexamine my long held just war position.
If I really claim to be a disciple of Jesus, how can I ignore the commands to literally, not figuratively, “turn the other cheek” and “love my enemies”?
Likewise, why do I feel the need to use violence as a means to avoid death if, because of the resurrection of Jesus, death is not the final answer?
As the authors in this book note, how we answer those questions will always look a little different and will certainly never been easy. If there was any point in the book that left me wanting more it was here. While there were many alternative approaches to violence described, and while I fully concur with the book’s premise that Christian pacifism will always look different in different situations, given the direct approach of the book I would like to have seen, for example, more concrete alternatives for the eternal elephant in the pacifist room, ie. how someone like Bonhoeffer or the Allies should have reacted to Hitler and the Nazi death camps.
That, however, stems from my own lack of imagination and not the credibility of the case for Christian pacifism which is made in the book, a case I’m not sure I have much argument against anymore.
In the end, the questions asked in A Faith Not Worth Fighting For are tough questions that I will, no doubt, continue to ask myself for years to come. If you take the time to give this book a read, and you really need to, I think you will find yourself just as challenged. Not just by the authors, but by the words of the rabbi from Nazareth we claim is our “Lord.”
A word of thanks in order to the good people at Wipf & Stock for sending me over a copy of A Faith Not Worth Fighting For and make sure you stay tuned next week for an interview with the co-editor of the book, Tripp York!
Grace and peace,