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Fall 2013 · Vol. 42 No. 2 · pp. 271–273 

Book Review

A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions about Christian Nonviolence

ed. Tripp York and Justin Bronson Barringer. Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2012. 243 pages.

Reviewed by David Driedger

York and Barringer’s A Faith Not Worth Fighting For continues a long history of teaching pacifists how to defend and justify their position. As York outlines in the final chapter, Christian nonviolence moved from being an assumed posture of faithfulness to, at best, a marginal or even fanatical expression of the church. This book is a contemporary response to questions that do not seem to be going away. The strength of this particular response is in being both highly specific and accessible. The editors achieve the often unsung feat of keeping each contribution refreshingly short (often coming in at around fifteen pages). The authors typically avoid technical jargon and keep focused on practical realities and specific enquiries such as: How would you respond to someone attacking a loved one? How do you interpret the Old Testament in light of Jesus’ message of peace? What about Hitler? For these reasons the book is an excellent resource for those beginning to explore questions of peace and nonviolence in a Christian or theological context. Not surprisingly, most of the chapters reflect (and often refer to) the theology of John Howard Yoder.

While the strengths were clear from the start, the weaknesses of the book emerged more slowly as I worked through the book. With each contribution limiting itself to specific questions, it is clearly impossible to cover all questions about nonviolence. That being said, I was surprised and disappointed that there was virtually no reflection on global economic and ecological issues that implicate us (at least in the West) in violence, and whether or not our complicity even makes nonviolence a possibility. The editors and contributors seem to be aware of structural violence and allude to it at times, but there is no direct treatment of this sort of question. If economic and ecologic violence are not among the most relevant issues by now, they really should be.

The only chapter that comes close to examining larger structural violence is the one by Amy Laura Hall and Kara Slade, which addresses the question of how to respond to someone attacking a loved one. Hall and Slade open up the implicit assumptions of the question and reveal the cultural and gender biases (violence?) that are often wrapped up in the question itself. Who is presumed to be the one attacked? Who is presumed to be the one with the ability to respond? This chapter helps us to think differently about the questions themselves, which in turn opens up new ways to respond or engage.

This collection raises the question of the relationship between violence and the church’s understanding of the Bible. Almost half the chapters deal {272} with the violence that has been supported through what the authors would consider “misinterpretations” of the Bible. The Mennonite church continues to have a convoluted or at least ambiguous understanding of how the Bible, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the community of believers relate to each other. Can the Bible authorize what is more authoritative than the Bible? So long as we do not address this ambiguity directly we will be forced to deal with interpretations that leverage the Bible for violent purposes. So long as we hold that each particular Bible passage has a transcendent glow of authority about it, we will have to deal with the violence some verses can encourage. Again, while contributors dealt with specific passages there was no mention of the context that made these readings possible or viable.

The book repeatedly calls on Christians to die rather than kill; this is the faith not worth fighting for. Perhaps the question to be asked is whether this book represents an orthodoxy worth fighting for. I did not anticipate how often contributors would appeal to some sort of orthodox Christology often as the only position that could render nonviolence intelligible. The first chapter outlines an orthodox position which the author felt were “assumptions [that] must be made plain” (11). The second chapter claims that pacifism only makes sense from an orthodox Christology (24). In another chapter the witness of Gandhi is diminished because he was not a Christian (56). Another chapter warns us that the motivation for and the meaning of nonviolence will be “completely different” if we divorce our practice from our theological foundation (115). This defense of orthodoxy culminates in Lee Camp’s chapter where he characterizes the church as the “stars of the show” and the rest of the world as ushers bringing people to the stage. He follows this by saying that “this claim must not and cannot be construed in a triumphalist manner” (149). He may have wanted to use another image if this was not how he wanted the church to be construed. This extreme privileging of orthodoxy is not reflected in all chapters but was consistent enough to constitute one of the connecting themes. To be sure, the authors are focusing on Christian nonviolence (and not even nonviolence as an end in itself). However, my concern is that in addressing particular issues of nonviolence through an exclusivist lens of orthodox Christology many of the contributors were diminishing other viable theologies as well as other non-Christian traditions of nonviolence, and that defending this orthodoxy will insulate the position from becoming more aware of ideas and expressions that lend themselves to further violence.

Those advocating peace and nonviolence in the church should welcome this volume. They should welcome it for the contribution it makes to introducing another generation to the questions that still arise around Christian nonviolence. And just as importantly, the church should welcome this book in order to glimpse the contours of the work that still needs to be done, the work that needs to {273} be done beyond this book as well as the critique of potential violence that needs to be revealed within this book.

David Driedger
Associate Minister
First Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, Manitoba

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