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The Bible, Jesus and non-violence

Many books these days are wisely insisting that Jesus himself become our hermeneutical compass. This is one of them. Many, too, are insisting that to embrace Jesus is to embrace non-violence (in both ourselves and God). And, yes, this is one of them. It is: The Jesus Driven Life: Reconnecting Humanity With Jesus by Michael Hardin [2nd edition]. (JDL Press, 2013. ISBN: 978-1-4507-0945-3).

This is longer and more heavyweight than most, easy to read in parts and tortuous in others. The easy bit is when it’s arguing the case—for Jesus, non-violence and a better hermeneutic—and tortuous when it gets into the detailed exegesis of some related Bible passages, especially OT ones like Isaiah 53. You must also be prepared for a bit of philosophy: the author leans heavily on the writings of René Girard and his ideas on mimetic realism. But I reckon it’s worth sticking with it to the end.

He rightly observes that a sea-change took place in Christian belief and practice when Constantine in the 4th century joined church and state, and that the dubious changes were reinforced by the infiltration of Greek philosophical ideas, propounded down the years in the teaching of such giants as Augustine, Anselm and Calvin. We need to return, he says, to the simpler scriptural ideas about God’s nature that prevailed before this change.

If Jesus is the definitive revelation of God, he argues, there is no room for God’s wrath. Christians, like many of the OT writers, hold to a Janus-faced God who is at the same time loving and wrathful. But Jesus, by both his teaching and example, reveals him to be totally loving. The implication, of course, is universalism—that everyone will, in the end, be accepted by God and no-one will suffer exclusion from his presence. Hardin fails, I think, to recognise that one can believe in an all-loving God while still holding that some will, by their own rebellious choice, end up excluded.

The sections on Girard are fascinating. The French philosopher’s observations about group identity, violence and scapegoating certain ring true as explaining both society’s actions today and events in Bible times, including the death of Jesus.

This book is not for you if you’re a ‘keep going to church and ask no questions’ Christian. But if, like me, you’re conscious of being on a journey of constantly reassessing your beliefs and the meaning of Scripture, you’ll find Hardin’s work a delight.

[The numbers are not page numbers but Kindle location numbers]

The church has had a tendency to de-Judaize Jesus.  When this happens, Jesus is understood as the perfect sacrifice sent from God to redeem us from our sin.  His life doesn’t count except as a preparation for sacrifice; the emphasis shifts from how Jesus lived as a model for our discipleship to how Jesus kept God’s law perfectly so he could be a perfect/sinless sacrifice. (456)

When we look back to the earliest Christian communities who wrote the texts we now have in our New Testament, we see that they did not preach a view of the inspiration and authority of Scripture, they preached Jesus.  Jesus: his life, death and resurrection and ascension were the beginning, middle and end of all they thought and taught. (710)

When Jesus read or heard his Bible, he had a lens, a grid, a method of interpreting it.  We not only want to know how he interpreted his people’s writings, but also how we can follow him in interpreting these Scriptures. (904) Top of Form

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Ultimately Psalm 22 is a cry of hope.  The Jews who heard Jesus cry the first words of Psalm 22 from the cross heard not only the sense of abandonment, but also the hope, because they knew that Psalm! (1011)

I have sought to head off at the pass two major objections to a widespread misunderstanding of God as Father.  The first is that Father is to be perceived in power terms and the second is that God was angry with Jesus as he hung dying.  I have also suggested that by beginning with the cross of Jesus in our understanding of God we can see that God’s relationship to Jesus must be conceived in terms other than those we have been given in our dominant theological traditions. (1022)  

The sayings of Jesus about hell are not directed to those who are labeled sinners by others, but to those who consider themselves holy, righteous and pious. (1130)  

How different would the world be today, if so-called Christian America had, instead of announcing war after 9/11, offered forgiveness? (1376)  

…the Old McDonald approach to the Bible, here a verse, there a verse, everywhere a verse verse.  Contemporary fundamentalist preaching is like this; a string of verses on a chain like pearls that all make whatever point the preacher is seeking to get across. (1489)

Nothing irks some folks more than losing a God who is wrathful, angry, retributive and punishing.  This is only because we want so much to believe that God takes sides, and that side is inevitably our side.  So much of Jesus’ teaching subverts this way of thinking. (1591)  

Luke 7:22ff is a selection of texts, mostly from Isaiah…  The Isaiah texts all include a reference to the vengeance of God none of which Jesus quotes. (1611)  

By removing retribution from the work and character of God, Jesus, for the first time in human history, opened up a new way, a path, which he also invites us to travel.  Sadly few have found that this path and church history is replete with hundreds, even thousands of examples of a Janus-faced god, a god who is merciful and wrathful, loving and punishing.  Some have said that we need to hold to both of these sides together.  Jesus didn’t and neither should we.  It is time for us to follow Jesus in reconsidering what divinity without retribution looks like. (1629)

There is a way of living life, a mode of being religious that causes destruction wherever it appears.  It is the misinterpretation of the concept of holiness. (1799)  

Unlike the constant refrain of holiness in the Dead Sea Scrolls or the later Mishnah, Jesus has another set of lyrics using the same melody.  Instead of “Be holy as I am holy” Jesus taught “Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful” (Luke 6:36).  Mercy was for Jesus what holiness was to many of his contemporaries.  Notice the same form is used but the substance has changed.  Why is this?  Because for Jesus, holiness was not a solution but a problem. Holiness caused ostracizing and exclusion; mercy brought reconciliation and re-socialization.  Holiness depended on gradation and hierarchy; mercy broke through all barriers.  Holiness differentiated persons based upon honor, wealth, family tree, religious affiliation; mercy recognized that God honors all, loves all and blesses all. (1925)

Why do we follow Jesus?  We follow Jesus so that when we die we can get to heaven. Not! Discipleship is not narcissistic.  Frankly, I see way too much self-serving [so-called] discipleship in contemporary Christianity.  People claim to follow Jesus for what they can get out of it, whether it is peace of mind, blessing, wealth, health or anything else.  These things may well follow (“and all these things will be added unto you” Matt. 6:33) but they are not the goal of our discipleship.  The goal, the reason we follow Jesus, is to serve one another as he has served us. (2163)  

“Jesus Yes! God No!” is something I hear everywhere I go. (2226)  

When we so differentiate the Father from the Son (and the Spirit), when God can kill and justify all sorts of violence, and yet we also claim that Jesus reveals God, yet Jesus is non-resistant and non-retributive then we have a problem of epic proportions.  Either Jesus does not really show us the character of God or Jesus was deluded to think that he manifested the reign of God in his person and ministry. (2233)

Top of Form

Bottom of FormTop of FormBottom of FormThere is a substantive difference between the way ‘God’ acted in many narratives of the Old Testament and the way God acted in Jesus.  No amount of interpretive gymnastics can hide this; it was a key question wrestled with by the early church. (2253)  

The God whom Jesus proclaims is a God who blesses all, forgives all and loves all freely and unconditionally (Matthew 5:45), and who calls us to do the same. (2350)

Anselm assimilated Jesus’ death to that of the pagan sacrificial principle and made God the object of Jesus’ atonement.  Jesus did something for God and in exchange earned our salvation. (2642)

Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus say God is angry or wrathful with sinners, nor does he ever say or imply that God’s wrath must be appeased before God can accept sinners back into the fold.  None of the logic of the sacrificial principle can be found in anything Jesus says regarding his death. (2730)  

Jesus did not teach quietism nor doormat pacifism but nonviolent resistance. (3152)  

In the hundred years following the ascension of Constantine more Christians died at the hands of Christians than had died the previous 250 years at the hands of Empire. (3236)

Modern translations are made using the Hebrew text and modern theories of inspiration argue that it is the Hebrew text that is inspired.  No one in the early church would have come to this conclusion.  The LXX was the dominant Scriptural basis for interpreting Jesus in the early church.  Even today, the Eastern Church (the Greek and Russian Orthodox) believes that the LXX is the inspired version of the Old Testament. (3474)

There is no such thing as ‘free will’ if we are always copying each other non-consciously.  The emphasis that Augustine and Martin Luther laid upon ‘the bondage of the will’ has a real ring of truth to it for it recognizes that we are unable to get ourselves out of the mess we have been entangled in, the mess of sin, the mess of mimetic contagion that spirals into retributive violence. (3877)

Group identity is forged in relation to the victim; we are not that. (4035)

The god whom Calvin would have us believe in is the violent Janus-faced god of human religion. (4155)

There are two trajectories in the Hebrew Scriptures and…the Gospel specifically and intentionally follows one and not the other. (4314)

The ‘standard’ Protestant view of the inerrancy or infallibility of Scripture is unacceptable.  It is not simply a question of ‘historical errors’ (was Jesus crucified before or after the Passover meal) but the deeper theological ones (why is God as reflected in Jesus so substantively different than God is portrayed in many Old Testament texts) that have caused me to rethink the nature of the Bible. René Girard’s work is convincing that one must distinguish the perspectives and voices found in Scripture, which one writer calls “rightly dividing the word of truth.” (4375)

I see the cross as the evacuation of all concepts of divine wrath, existential and eschatological. There was no wrath of God poured out on Jesus on the cross; the wrath is strictly ours.  Nor is there an eschatological wrath, as though God was only partly ameliorated at the cross but will make sure to vent holy anger come The End.  The cross is the death of all our god concepts, and we humans are the ones who, through the justification of scapegoating, believe that God is one with us when we victimize.  After all, God victimized plenty of people and people groups in the Old Testament.  This sacrificial way of thinking is terminated by the anti-sacrifice Jesus. Jesus’ blood covers our sin, not through some divine forensic transaction but as we lift our blood stained hands we hear the divine voice “You are forgiven, each and every one of you, all of you.” (4404)

Christian theology is seduced by the satanic when it appropriates a sacrificial hermeneutic, when it makes the God and Father of Jesus to be like the gods of archaic religion who require blood sacrifice to appease divine wrath and achieve divine blessing. (4506)

The devil is an anthropological category not a theological one.  The devil is about us humans, our violence, our projection, our victimizing, and our idolatry.  It is not about some supra temporal being, that God created (8.3).  No, we humans created the satan, the moment the male imitated in paradise. The satan dwells within us, creates our communities, and rules our ideologies.  It is the most terrifying ‘thing’ that exists because of its ability to keep us enthralled as a species for so long. (4730)  

Torah is not a monolithic voice, it never has been.  If it were one voice, the rabbis would never have had to be as skilled as they were (and are today) to interpret it.  Torah has two voices, that of the human persecutor and that of the human victim and it is the latter to whom God turns and whom God favors. (4810)

Never does Paul (or any New Testament writer) say that God put our sins on Jesus or that our sins were nailed to the cross. No! It is the accusatory instrument which is nailed to Jesus’ cross; it is the “principality and power” which is unmasked and disarmed so that it may never have power over us. (5769)

What Paul is arguing against when it comes to the Law is that there are times when what one perceives as doing the right thing is wrong; just because the Bible ‘authorizes’ violence does not mean that it is God’s will.  This is the shift in perspective that changed Paul’s life upside down.  For Paul, the only thing that mattered was “faith expressed as love” (Gal. 5:6).  Christ had brought an end to zealous Torah interpretation (Rom. 10:5) by becoming the object of the people’s wrath (Gal. 3:13-14), the victim unjustly prosecuted by the requirements of Torah. (5959)  

[Re 2 Cor 5:21]  If it is humans who ‘made Jesus sin’ and not God, how then shall we understand this verse?  I would translate it this way: “The one who was innocent was deemed guilty by humanity (who judge ‘kata sarka’), therefore, inasmuch as we made a wrong judgment about the innocent Jesus, God is right to make a ‘wrong’ judgment about us and declare us, who are guilty, to be in right relationship to God.” (6059)

Augustine’s doctrine of election was meant to protect the grace of God against those who would assert that salvation was from human initiative, but his ‘a few go to heaven and the majority go to hell when we all deserve hell’ does not capture the incredible manifestation of God’s grace in the New Testament. (6119)

In every case where the word nomos (Law) appears in the Fourth Gospel it is strategically tied to the problem of violence.  The Fourth Gospel, like the Synoptics, Jesus and Paul, all have as their major central concern what occurs when the sacred biblical text is used to justify violence. (6973)

Whatever we may think we know about God or say about God cannot be different from what we know and say about Jesus.  We cannot play them off against one another as though one is a get-tough lawgiver while the other is a submissive participant in a tragic play. (7069)  

The spirit of fear comes from the sacrificial principle.  This occurs when a community perceives themselves as an in-group over against an out-group.  The out-group functions as a scapegoat to keep the in-group together.  Those inside the in-group live in fear of being part of the out-group.  To be part of the out-group is to be outside the redeemed community.  Cyprian said in the third century “outside the church there is no salvation.”  Sadly today, this maxim has come to be used to defend Christian thinking that it is my group, my church, and my tradition that saves.  Those outside of this are damned. (7223)

Jesus judged taboos (e.g., work on the Sabbath) when they harmed people. False conviction judges people when they ‘harm’ taboos. (7330)

Over the last generation, the certitude of dispensationalism ought to have fallen much harder in the face of countless scholarly works by the likes of Barbara Rossing, N.T. Wright, Clarence Bauckham, et al. Our best teachers have thoroughly debunked ‘left behind’ theology—yet it’s an uphill battle to dissuade the masses who gobbled up over 75 million copies of LaHaye and Jenkins’ popular fantasies. (7989)

In Romans 1 (picking up from Isa. 64:5–7), Paul clarifies: what was described in the OT narrative metaphorically as God’s [seemingly] active wrath is in fact the ‘giving over’ (God’s consent) of rebellious people to their own self-destructive trajectories—even when the shrapnel of our actions accrues collateral damage on innocents! When in Romans 5 we read that God in Christ was saving us from ‘the wrath,’ we are not to believe that Jesus is saving us from God, but from the consequences of sin (death, according to Rom. 6:23) embedded in the very order of the universe. (8211)

The simple math of the New Jerusalem Gospel is beautiful and powerful, even surprising: The wicked are outside the city + the gates of the city will never be shut + the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come” = hope! (8444)

Other reviews of books on a Christocentric hermeneutic and non-violence:

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