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Spring 2003 · Vol. 32 No. 1 · pp. 127–30 

Recommended Reading

Nurturing Peace, Responding to Violence: A Bibliographic Reflection

Gordon H. Matties

In Jeremiah’s time as in ours, “Terror is on every side” (6:25; 20:10). And with Habakkuk we cry out “Violence!” and wonder whether it is possible to imagine a hopeful future. The books mentioned below offer a vision of peace in a world clamoring for war. They provide resources for understanding who we are, for shaping character and community, and for responding creatively to the violent reality of our world.


Responding to violence in creative, hopeful ways can best occur when both hospitality and forgiveness have been nurtured in our lives and in our churches. I begin, therefore, with a book by Jean Vanier, Becoming Human (Toronto, ON: Anansi, 1998), a profound statement on the possibility of transforming exclusion and alienation into welcoming the other, forgiveness, and love of enemies. Two books that fuel those hopes are by Christine Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999) and L. Gregory Jones, Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995). In a challenging and engaging presentation Miroslav Volf explores both the hindrances to and the possibilities of breaking the cycle of violence: Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1996). And Desmond Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness (New York: Doubleday, 1999) offers a living portrait of how forgiveness “liberates the victim” (272) and is the only act that makes a hopeful future possible.


Welcoming, embracing, and forgiving the other are virtues that {128} grow out of understanding who we are. Being a gospel people means being the message the church wishes the world to hear, as Rodney Clapp puts it in A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996). That vision of the church as the alternative community of Jesus is masterfully presented in a number of books, including Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1989); Jonathan R. Wilson, Gospel Virtues: Practicing Faith, Hope, and Love in Uncertain Times (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998); and Marva J. Dawn, Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001). All of those in one way or another depend on John Howard Yoder’s classic biblical exploration of a peaceful Christian identity, The Politics of Jesus, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994).


Since the Bible is often read through the glasses of our traditions, we do well to explore how we teach Scripture for shaping a community of peace in a violent world. Four books stand out: Walter Brueggemann, Peace (St. Louis, MO: Chalice, 2001); Perry B. Yoder, Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice and Peace (Newton, KS: Faith and Life, 1987; reprinted Nappanee, IN: Evangel, 2001); Vernard Eller, War and Peace from Genesis to Revelation (Scottdale, PA, and Kitchener, ON: Herald, 1981); and Willard M. Swartley, Slavery, Sabbath, War, and Women: Case Issues in Biblical Interpretation (Scottdale, PA, and Waterloo, ON: Herald, 1983).


Practical Christian discipleship fortified by a biblical vision of God’s kingdom is rooted in the transformation of the heart, as exemplified in John Dear’s Disarming the Heart: Toward a Vow of Nonviolence (Scottdale, PA, and Waterloo, ON: Herald, 1993). Stanley Hauerwas, in The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), develops a comprehensive Christian ethic that emphasizes peaceableness as a hallmark of Christian life. Lisa Sowle Cahill, in Love Your Enemies: Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1994), presents the best survey of the various ways kingdom thinking has led the church throughout history to reflect on its response to violence. And John D. Roth’s Choosing Against War: A Christian View (Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2002) offers a short, fresh statement about Christian {129} pacifism, inviting dissenters to consider this possibility.


Although written before September 11, 2001, Lee Griffith’s The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002) is both a thorough analysis of the global culture of violence and an invitation back to a way of peace, and “to the one and only sufficient antidote to terror—the resurrection of Jesus” (251). That motif is developed in a short, readable book by Jim S. Amstutz, Threatened with Resurrection: Self-Preservation and Christ’s Way of Peace (Scottdale, PA, and Waterloo, ON: Herald, 2002). John Howard Yoder’s What Would You Do? (Scottdale, PA, and Kitchener, ON: Herald, 1983; expanded ed., 1992) helps us think beyond the hypothetical to a strategy for creative response to violence. And the personal narratives in two books help us to feed our vision of peace by reading stories of hopeful transformation of violence: Arthur G. Gish, Hebron Journal: Stories of Nonviolent Peacemaking (Scottdale, PA, and Waterloo, ON: Herald, 2001), and Titus Peachey and Linda Gehman Peachey, eds., Seeking Peace: True Stories of Mennonites Around the World (Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2002).

Psalm 10 testifies to the hope for a world in which no one will strike terror again. The book edited by Jon L. Berquist, Strike Terror No More: Theology, Ethics, and the New War (St. Louis, MO: Chalice, 2002), brings together thirty-eight varied and provocative responses to our current crisis. Similarly, Donald B. Kraybill and Linda Gehman Peachey, in Where Was God on September 11? Seeds of Faith and Hope (Scottdale, PA, and Waterloo, ON: Herald, 2002), present more than sixty Mennonite (and other) responses to the question “How should people of faith respond to violence, terror, and fear?” And if this “new war” is at all related to the principalities and powers of which the Apostle Paul speaks, then it may well be an appropriate time to read Walter Wink’s Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1992) and the difficult but rewarding book by René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis; Ottawa, ON: Novalis, 2001).


In the shadow of war we may remind ourselves that when the powers fall, human reconciliation remains a vital hope. John Paul Lederach’s thoughtful primer on reconciliation, The Journey Toward Reconciliation (Scottdale, PA, and Waterloo, ON: Herald, 1999) is a fine {130} place to begin. Stories and critical reflection on reconciliation from around the world inspire us to hope for transformation and to become reconciling people: J. P. Lederach, ed., Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 1997); John W. De Gruchy, Reconciliation: Restoring Justice (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2003); and the book edited by Robert Herr and Judy Zimmerman Herr, Transforming Violence: Linking Local and Global Peacemaking (Scottdale, PA, and Waterloo, ON: Herald, 1998).


Finally, I suggest several books that, in the light of contemporary violence, challenge the implicit violence in some traditional views of the atonement. Joel B. Green and Mark D. Baker, Rediscovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament and Contemporary Contexts (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000) and J. Denny Weaver, The Nonviolent Atonement (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001) encourage us to evaluate how theology itself often mirrors the violent patterns implicit in cultural assumptions. The work of René Girard (mentioned above) forms the basis of attempts to grapple with the myth, as it is reflected both in the ancient world and in our time, that human beings are able to restore peace through sacred or so-called redemptive violence: Raymund Schwager, Must There Be Scapegoats? Violence and Redemption in the Bible (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1987), Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads (New York: Crossroad, 1995), and Willard M. Swartley, ed., Violence Renounced: René Girard, Biblical Studies, and Peacemaking (Telford, PA: Pandora Press U.S., 2000).

For the most recent thinking by theologians from a variety of historic peace churches, check out the papers presented at a recent conference in Bienenberg, Germany, “Theology and Culture: Peacemaking in a Globalized World.”

Gordon Matties is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies and Theology at Canadian Mennonite University and a member of River East Mennonite Brethren Church, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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