Thursday, April 30, 2015

Calvinism and Pacifism?

I read a post by Thomas Kidd a few weeks ago and it really stuck with me. The title alone, Why Aren't Calvinists Pacifists? and being posted on the Gospel Coalition page makes for an interesting article. Alas as I have been censored for opinions not conducive to the mission of the Gospel Coalition I was not able to join the conversation but it seemed odd to me that it only drew 8 comments. Odd but not unexpected. This is an uncomfortable topic for Christians and especially for Calvinist/Reformed Christians with a decidedly checkered past when it comes to supporting state sponsored violence. The post gets to the heart of what might lead to Calvinist rejecting "pacifism" although I tend to avoid the term "pacifism" because it a) understandably carries so much political baggage in our culture and b) doesn't truly encompass the broadness of the Biblical message on non-resistance which goes way beyond warfare. As Kidd points out, a lot of the defense of Christians engaging in and otherwise supporting state violence comes from reading the Bible in a "flat" manner. He wouldn't call it that but I feel free to do so. In contrast to the Anabaptist hermeneutic which accepts and reveres all Scripture as God-breathed but also recognizes that the New Testament is a more complete revelation and ought to be used to guide the interpretation of the Old, the Reformed tend to see too many similarities between the church and Israel:
Reformed Christians have similarly tended to see certain continuity between the Old and New Testaments. Although Israel and the church are distinct entities, they contend, there are similarities between the way that God related to Israel and the way he relates to the church. Thus, if God at times commanded Israel to take on military assignments and conquer territory, it isn’t a stretch to think he might ask Christians to do the same things through the agency of the governments under which they live.
That is exactly why I prefer a type of New Covenant theology to the two main camps, the Dispensational theory which can't get the church and Israel together and the Covenant Theology camp which can't get them apart. There is continuity between the church and Israel but there are also critical differences. While I think Dispensationalism is wrong on just about every single distinctive point, I do have a deep affinity for Covenant theology but refusing to see the differences between the Old Covenant and the New gets us in trouble every time.

I think he really gets at the core of the problem here:
Herein lies the more problematic factor in the relative absence of a Reformed pacifist tradition: Reformed Christians have often been too comfortable with state-sanctioned violence. Since the Reformation, many Protestants have seen an important role for nations, kings, and militaries in advancing the ends of the kingdom. If one believes in providence, then of course the acts of nations do somehow fulfill God’s plans for humanity. But Reformed Christians could borrow a dash of pessimism from Christians such as Anabaptists (Mennonites and others), and theologians such as Stanley Hauerwas, who are inherently skeptical about the agenda of any nation-state and its military pursuits.
This comes with ample evidence in the history of the church where a lot of Reformed Christians have a bit of a black eye when it comes to being unequally yoked with the state, leading all too often to the persecution of fellow Christians. You aren't going to see many writers for TGC speaking positively about Hauerwas but that is an issue for a different day. I am starting to think that the vitriolic response from some Reformed Christians to  the Anabaptists has a touch of guilt hidden deep down. In the end Kidd comes away rejecting pacifism but kudos to him for at least raising the issue.

Anyway, I think it is an interesting read and hopefully it got some people thinking. I believe in non-resistance for the same reasons I believe in the doctrines of grace, simply put they are both the most direct understanding of the Scriptures on their respective topics. Ironically I found both positions to be distasteful initially but now I see them as the best understanding of God's revelation in the spheres they cover. I don't see a contradiction in being a "Reformed Anabaptist" who believes in divine, sovereign election of an elect people and at the same time seeing that God calls us to a life of non-resistance. Many people do but if you try to see past your traditions and cultural church baggage you might just see that these two positions are not only not incompatible but are in fact two truths that stem from the same faithful trust in a sovereign God.


Aussie John said...


Well said!

"That is exactly why I prefer a type of New Covenant theology to the two main camps"---AMEN!

Anonymous said...

There are a number of important pacifist Calvinists. Here are some notable pacifist pastors and theologians who had an important impact on the anti-war movement:

- Andre Trocmé (who saved thousands of Jews in Le Chambon during the Holocaust)
- Jacques Ellul
- Brother Roger (founder of Taize)
- Jean Lasserre (writer of 'War and the Gospel' and Fellowship of Reconciliation member)
- Paul Ricœur