From the Tower of Babel to the Peace of Jesus Christ:
Christological, Ecclesiological and Missiological Foundations for Peacemaking
Abstract: The first part of this article is an attempt to look at biblical salvation narratives in light of the question of globalization and peacemaking. The Tower of Babel story is construed as a first example of “globalization”-i.e., an imperialistic attempt to create a society based on technological prowess and a unique language. The project failed, but also resulted in the scattering of peoples into a world of “non-communication” and conflict. The call of Abraham and Sarah is the biblical response to Babel, and the New Testament description of salvation in terms of “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” can be fruitfully understood as a critique of “Babel”-i.e., negative globalization. In the second part, the article explores how traditional Christology, ecclesiology and missiology can and should be linked to discussions of peacemaking in a globalized world. In spite of legitimate concerns that arise from the question of religious pluralism and theological justifications of violence throughout history, it would be a major mistake to separate peace theology from more traditional Christological claims as well as from the mission of the church in the world today. Instead, peace church theology has much to offer in dialogue with classical formulations of Christology and ecclesiology.
The practice of theology nearly always unfolds as an ongoing conversation between the past and the present, a never-ending series of questions posed to the Christian tradition and coming from ever-new and different cultural and historical contexts. When we address questions of globalization and peacemaking, we do so at least in part from the perspective of our own tradition, the historic peace churches. Our self-understanding is grounded in Scripture but interpreted through the prism of our history and our praxis of nonviolence and peacemaking.
It has become fashionable in theological circles to speak of Scripture and Christian theology as “narrative” in character. Even though theology cannot, and should not, be reduced to story, narrative is a fundamental way of construing our identity and thought. Looking at the Christian story of salvation points us toward helpful clues as to how to engage the questions of peacemaking and globalization. The vast canon of Scripture contains many stories originating in very different times and places. Nevertheless, we recognize a canon of stories that belong together. They find their coherence and meaning in relationship to each other and in response to the questions that we bring to them.
I will argue that peace and peacemaking are a central element of the biblical understanding of salvation. I will also argue that the salvation narrative of peace was consciously elaborated in response to the first story of globalization-the account of the Tower of Babel. In the second part of the essay, I will examine how the salvation narrative of peace can be related to our understanding of Christology, ecclesiology and the mission of the Church.
LOOKING AGAIN AT THE BIBLICAL NARRATIVE
The Tower of Babel and the Call of Abraham
The story of the tower of Babel, recounted in Genesis 11:1-9, provides a conclusion to the biblical account of primeval history. It describes the last great judgment that befell humanity, in a sequence that begins with the fall in Genesis 3 and the “sons of God” episode in Genesis 6:1-4, both of which triggered divine judgments of great and enduring consequence. The modern interpreter may find the juxtaposition of the “table of nations” (Ch. 10) and the tower of Babel story to be incongruous since they seem to offer two incompatible accounts of the origins of the nations and their different languages. However, the story of Babel is not intended to justify or explain the origins of linguistic, cultural or racial diversity. Families, languages, lands and nations already appear in a positive fashion in Chapter 10 showing that human diversity is already a given.
The stories told in Genesis 10 and 11 are to be understood in a complementary rather than contradictory way. In the context of the opening chapters, they offer another instance of a continuing dialectic of creation and fall, of blessing and judgment, of God’s love and human rebellion. Following the Table of Nations, where cultural and racial diversity are seen as part of a good creation, Babel represents a continuation of the fall-a first attempt at human imperialism building a civilization on the basis of a unique and exclusive language. In other words, Babel is the culmination of the story of primeval rebellion against God; it is a cultural and civilizational project in which human cultural and political efforts seek to reach or replace or exclude God.
Various aspects of the narrative reinforce this reading. The people involved in the imperialistic project are migrating and choose to settle at a place called Shinar. Jacques Ellul has argued that Shinar means nothing other than the “place of sin.” The people of Shinar formulate and pursue their cultural, technological and architectural goals without any reference to God: “Come, let us make bricks.” “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower.” “Let us make a name for ourselves.” According to Ellul, the two main aspects of the project are the city and “making a name.” The tower thus embodies the spiritual pride and rebellion inherent in the project:
From a purely human viewpoint, building a tower as high as the sky is an audacious undertaking, but it seems likely that Genesis views it as a sacrilege. For the sky is also heaven, the home of God, and this ancient skyscraper may be another human effort to become like God and have intercourse with him.
“Making a name for oneself” could thus consist of trying to construct human identity in relation to our own technological and cultural projects without reference to God.
The tower of Babel is not the same as globalization in the twenty-first century. But the central themes are unmistakably present: a cultural and political imperialism based on urbanization, technology and language. The common language does not facilitate communication; rather, it represents an attempt to impose a universal point of view and way of speech upon humanity. It is a totalitarian ideology, enforced through political, moral and religious centralization-a city with only one way of thinking and talking, reaching heavenward under the authority of a single power.
As history has confirmed many times since, cultural, technological and ideological imperialism is transitory. At Babel God “came down” and intervened, thus setting limits to the cultural and political processes of creation. At Babel, humanity wanted to create its own identity, based on its own projects, but the result was confusion. The unique language splintered into many. People no longer understood each other, but were separated, divided and scattered. The world became a place of “non-communication,” where peoples, cultures, races and languages were and continue to be a source of conflict and violence. This situation, in turn, continues to intensify imperial efforts at unification in order to overcome the divisions and to reestablish communication.
The biblical version of primeval history thus ends bleakly: in a world of scattered peoples, cultures and languages prone to continual conflict and incapable of mutual understanding. Indeed, the outlook at the end of Chapter 12 is so fractured that it raises the question of whether peaceful and harmonious relationships are even possible in such a world. Has God given up on creation? Van Rad’s analysis of the story is insightful:
The whole primeval history, therefore, seems to break off in shrill dissonance, and the question we formulated above now arises even more urgently: Is God’s relationship with the nations now finally broken; is God’s gracious forbearance now exhausted; has God rejected the nations in wrath forever? . . . one can say that our narrator intended by means of the whole plan of his primeval history to raise precisely this question and to pose it in all its severity. Only then is the reader properly prepared to take up the strangely new thing that now follows the comfortless story about the building of the tower: the election and blessing of Abraham. We stand here, therefore, at the point where primeval history and sacred history dovetail, and thus at one of the most important places in the entire Old Testament. The question about God’s salvation for all nations remains open and unanswerable in primeval history. But our narrator does give an answer, namely, at the point where sacred history begins.
From this point on, we find the beginning of the biblical tradition’s salvation narrative, the emerging response to a world squeezed into the mold of the tower of Babel. The contrasts between the two stories are too numerous and too obvious for us not to recognize a close relationship. Consider only a few:
1. In Genesis Chapter 11 “they said to one another,” whereas in Chapter 12 “the LORD said to Abram.” The salvation narrative has its origin in God’s word and not ours.
2. To build the new city, people were migrating from the east and “found a plain” on their own. Abram, by contrast, is to go “to the land that I will show you.”
3. “Let us make a name for ourselves,” say those who build the tower. God says to Abram, “I will make your name great.” The way we construe our personal and cultural identity has enormous historical consequences.
4. Babel is a socio-political problem; God has a socio-political answer. “I will make of you a great nation,” God promises Abram. Salvation is political from the very start.
5. Babel represents the scattering of all peoples, the whole world. Genesis 12 is also for everyone: “By you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12 is a universal project being loosed in history by a gracious creator God who refuses to accept humanity’s rejection.
The salvation narrative thus originates as a response to a world that is not at peace, a world in which cultural, national and linguistic barriers are a source of separation and “non-communication” between families, peoples and nations. The biblical narrative of salvation promises a blessing to these scattered families who no longer understand one another.
It is beyond the scope of this essay to fully develop the theme of the “blessing to the nations” in its trajectory of the Old Testament. One key example will have to suffice before turning to the New Testament. Scholars have recently argued that God’s ultimate will for humanity in the Old Testament texts is best represented in the concept of “shalom.” An important illustration of this is found in Isaiah, where the question of how “the nations” might live together in peace and harmony is clearly at the heart of the salvation. In contrast to what occurred at Babel, the prophet envisions the nations at peace with each other:
It shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the house of Yahweh shall be established
as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills;
and all nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh . . .”
God shall judge between nations,
and shall decide for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more. (Is. 2:2-4)
The Peace of Christ
Many New Testament salvation texts take on additional meaning when read in light of the Babel-Abraham narratives. Throughout biblical history the universal and political thrust of salvation overcomes the scattering and confusion of Babel. Indeed, the very reason for the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of the messianic community was to bring “shalom” to the peoples.
One of the most explicit and dramatic examples of this persistent theme is the Pentecost experience in Jerusalem, in which the “non-communication” between peoples begins to come to an end. Luke, the writer of this account, wanted his readers to understand that the coming of the Holy Spirit to the first community of disciples enabled people who spoke different languages to hear the Good News in their own tongue:
When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites. . . .” What does this mean'” (Acts 2:6-12)
The coming of the Messiah and the pouring out of the Spirit immediately began to break down linguistic and cultural barriers. In this particular case, the overcoming of barriers occurred not between different races or peoples but among Jewish believers who spoke different languages. Very quickly, however, the question of different races and classes had to be addressed. “How do we live together with our enemies'” became the first major ecclesiological and missiological question of the first century. The answer to this question was clear in the missionary practice and theologizing of the early communities. Peace has been made through the death and resurrection of the proclaimed Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. This new peace was to be implemented concretely and visibly in a new social structure called “ekklesia,” or the body of Christ.
The very meaning of salvation was thereby formulated in relation to the Babel-Abraham tradition. How do people partake in the promise to bless the families of the earth? Is it necessary to forsake one’s cultural identity, to be circumcised, to change eating habits, to become what one is not? Or can new patterns of living together be found that will not necessitate renouncing one’s cultural identity? Paul and the New Testament epistles point to the Messiah as an altogether new answer. Because of what happened in Christ, divisions that usually separate people-race, class, gender-no longer have the power to separate and scatter. That divisive power has been met and usurped. It is not that race, class or gender no longer exist or are denied; but they are relativized. A new identity brings into being a new community, and the blessing to the nations becomes a concrete and historical reality. In Jesus, the blessing to the nations promised to Abraham becomes tangible in a distinct way.
. . . for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal. 3:27-28)
In 2 Corinthians, Paul uses a somewhat different vocabulary to describe salvation. In Christ, he writes, there is a “new creation”; God has brought about “reconciliation” and entrusted the “ministry of reconciliation” to the new community. This is not directly related to Abraham, as it is in Galatians or Romans; but “reconciliation” here clearly suggests that boundaries of race, class and gender are relativized and overcome. The church is a community of reconciliation to whom the ministry of reconciliation has been confided.
Paul’s writings (in Galatians, Romans and 2 Corinthians) are clear: in these new communities where barriers were being overcome, the blessing to the nations promised in Genesis was becoming a historical reality. A new way of living, of construing personal and social identity, had been accomplished “in Christ.” Salvation in Christ is thus linked to the Abraham narrative. And just as the promise to Abraham came in response to the socio-political realities of the ideology of Babel, so the new life in Christ takes on a socio-political reality as well.
Other New Testament texts strengthen the links between salvation in Christ, peace and a new social reality. In Ephesians, for example, Christ’s death and resurrection is interpreted in terms of peace:
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. . . . His purpose was to create in himself one new person out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. (Eph. 2:14-18)
Such peace can be understood only in socio-political terms.
When Ephesians 2:14 speaks of the Mosaic law as “the dividing wall of hostility,” the word “hostility” must be taken in the full and literal sense. There is plenty of evidence that the law brought about both an attitude of hostility on the part of Jews against their pagan neighbors and intense enmity on the part of pagans against Jews.
Those who were “far away” and those who “were near” reflect actual boundaries that existed within the socio-political structures of the “Pax Romana.” The creation of this new socio-political reality brought about in Christ leads to a very real and concrete expression of peace within history which, in turn, has a mission to extend that peace within the world.
When the New Testament describes salvation in Christ, it gives cosmic significance to that which materializes in human history. As seen in Ephesians, the victory of Christ takes shape through the creation of the new community. This same victory is also posited in Chapter 1 in universal and cosmic terms, where the resurrected Christ is seated:
. . . at the right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” (Eph. 1:20-21)
This kind of cosmic concern, reaching back all the way to creation, is also found in the Epistle to the Colossians where Christ:
. . . is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. . . . For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col. 1:15-20)
Here again, the Christ-event and the cross are spoken of in terms of making peace and reconciliation. The presence of “cosmic” elements in this context does not suggest a “de-historicized” or “non-political” version of salvation, peace and reconciliation. Not only is Babel being healed in the life of the new community, as seen in Galatians, Romans or Ephesians, but all of creation is renewed and restored once again through the death and resurrection of Christ.
The reuniting of the nations also has eschatological significance in the New Testament documents. Not only do peace and the new community become new realities “here and now” through the work of Christ in the present, but the healing of the nations is the very goal towards which history is moving. God’s final salvation will bring together what Babel separated and scattered:
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. (Rev. 7:9)
The city of Babel scattered the nations, but the new city of God will bring them together:
The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. . . . The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it. . . . (Rev. 21:23-27)
A river of life flows through the city, and the tree of life-which replaces the tree in the garden of Eden-yields fruit for the “healing of the nations.”
THEOLOGICAL UNDERPINNINGS AND IMPLICATIONS
With no claims to exegetical originality, I have tried to reconstruct a very brief account of how New Testament descriptions of salvation are related to peace and peacemaking-notions which in turn can be more fully understood as a response to the Babel narrative and its socio-political outworking in history. In this reading, Babel was the final step in the primeval story of creation and fall, which was the socio-political outworking of civilization and culture-building efforts grounded in imperialistic ideology, a unique language and the desire to “reach the heavens” through human technological achievement. In such a world people are scattered and dispersed, people cannot understand each other and experience conflict, violence and war. It is the world much as we know it today. Thus, as a historical, cultural and political impulse, “globalization” is not new even though technological advances accord it new possibilities while simultaneously enhancing its destructive and imperialist potential.
Negative globalization ensues when a particular cultural, political or linguistic identity within history becomes powerful enough to consider itself as universal and therefore worth being imposed on others. To be sure, the biblical counter-narrative of salvation also begins with particularity-with one of the families dispersed by Babel. But this is a different kind of particularity. Abraham and Sarah left their families, their home and their country to receive new names and identities. They left for a place they did not choose in order to be part of a new people who would somehow bless all the families of the earth. Here universality does not consist of imposing any particular cultural or political identity. Cultural and political identities are important, but they are always relativized by the recognition that God is at the origin of all cultures and identities and therefore cannot be identified ultimately with only one of them. No single culture or people has an ultimate or final status within history. Only God deserves such ultimate worship.
If Babel represents dispersion, separation, non-communication and the imperialistic idolatry of a given particular identity, salvation in Christ offers a peace that recognizes particular identities and the unique value of each culture. Such a peace attributes ultimacy to God who, as the creator of all things and people, cannot and should not be identified with any particular cultural or historical force.
I propose that such an understanding of peace and peacemaking should be a major element of historic peace church theology. But I also want to acknowledge the serious questions that such an understanding might raise within our context. How, for example, can peacemaking be anchored in Christology in an age of interreligious dialogue, especially when it seems so obvious that religious particularity and competition among religions is a major source of violence? How can peacemaking be related to ecclesiology without being-or appearing to be-sectarian and irresponsible? In an age when the entire human community is longing for peace and justice, why insist on the particularity of the church? How can peacemaking be part of the mission of the church in a cultural and intellectual climate that espouses tolerance and the right of all people to choose their own worldview or religion? How dare anyone speak of the truth of a particular religious tradition, implying that it is somehow better than another tradition? Does not the very idea of peace contradict any claim to the uniqueness of the Christian tradition?
These questions deserve to be taken seriously. Any response to them must be grounded in our basic convictions about Jesus, the church and mission.
I have consciously chosen to ground New Testament peacemaking not in the Gospels or an ethic of “Nachfolge Christi” and discipleship, even though that strand is an important part of our own theological self-understanding. Instead, the texts I have cited are more closely related to “traditional” Christology and soteriology. They speak of Christ’s death on the cross pro nobis as a source of salvation; of the pre-existent Christ-“the image of the invisible God . . . in whom all things were created,” who is “before all things,” in whom “the fullness of God dwelt”-and of the resurrected Christ seated “at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority.” In these texts we find what is often called a “high Christology.”
This christological approach makes sense in light of the broader ongoing dialogue between the historic peace churches and the World Council of Churches. The World Council of Churches describes itself as “a fellowship of churches that confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior according to the scriptures and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” The explicit theological foundation for the WCC is thus essentially christological and reflects the high Christology of the Christian tradition, i.e., the divinity of Christ and the Trinity.
Since its origins in the sixteenth century until the present, the Mennonite tradition has largely been in agreement with these christological affirmations, at least when stated in such a summary fashion. A minimal formulation allows widespread agreement between differing families in the Christian tradition, but also calls for clarification and for dialogue. Historic peace churches should engage the conversation by demonstrating how peace and peacemaking are closely related to traditional christological formulations. Conversely-and I will develop this point in more detail-a theology of peacemaking that is not well-grounded in Christology will have considerable difficulty in sustaining itself or those who are involved in peacemaking efforts.
Mennonites have tended not to be creedal, if that means that the classical Nicean or Chalcedonian formulas are the automatic point of departure or absolute means of verification for christological statements. In the current debate among Mennonites concerning the usefulness of traditional christological creeds, some have suggested caution in adopting formulas that have their origin in constantinian and violence-accommodating forms of Christianity. This reluctance to use creeds as a starting-point rather than Scripture may be well-founded, but at the same time a “high Christology” can be a very important way of articulating a theology of nonviolence and can provide the spiritual resources necessary to sustain ecclesial nonviolent practice and presence in the world. As theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwas has suggested, “. . . the Mennonite understanding of the church’s position toward the world is possible only if such a church is sustained by the kind of theology found in the church fathers, and in particular in that confession we call the Nicene Creed.”
The question, however, still remains: Is it possible to elaborate a theology of peace-making by claiming the uniqueness of Christ and the ultimate meaning of his death and resurrection for the history of the world? How does one make peace among communities while at the same time claiming ultimate truth for your own community’s way of understanding the world, for your own theology’s understanding of God? Have not the ultimate truth-claims of religion or ideologies encouraged violence among communities and nations? Are such truth-claims any different from the “one-language” imperialism that separates, scatters and creates the Babel phenomenon of non-communication?
One clear consequence of the postmodern rejection of modernity is that our world is divided into communities and groups that live according to their convictions, and that these convictions are inevitably grounded in the history and tradition of any given community. Contrary to the claims of modernity, there is no epistemological starting “from scratch.” We all engage the world within the context of communities that structure their common life on the basis of their most fundamental convictions. While reason and logic play important roles in the formulation and justification of our convictions, in the end, they are based on premises that cannot ultimately be proven, but only imposed and fought about-or shared, discussed and respected in a common search for truth.
The history of our world can thus be seen as the arena where different convictions and communities live together and where different world-views come into contact with each other-sometimes in harmony, but more often in conflict and confrontation. The modern period of western history attempted to resolve the confrontation of competing convictions and to bring about peace by positing claims of “universal reason” and “scientific rationality” as the criteria by which to evaluate various competing truth claims. Postmodernity, on the other hand, has rejected the very possibility of a “metalanguage” and with it the Enlightenment’s rational scientific “metanarrative” or any other ultimate truth claims.
But of course no person or community can function on any basis other than the assumption that its convictions are indeed true. We all must have a startingpoint. And even though we can and should demonstrate the solidity of our convictions by rational arguments, we eventually come to the place where we need to say: “This we hold to be true. This is what gives coherence and meaning to our experience of history and the world.” Ultimately, there are no convictions-secular or religious-without some kind of faith commitment. As Lesslie Newbigin has written:
All our knowing is a personal commitment in which we have no external guarantee that we cannot be mistaken. . . . Descartes’ program of indubitable knowledge is a fatal blind alley. All knowing is the knowing of a fallible human subject who may be wrong but who can only know more by personally committing himself to what he already knows. All knowledge is a personal commitment.
The motivation to bring peace among groups, peoples or religions by relativizing their competing truth claims is an honorable one, but not without its own serious problems. After all, such an approach assumes that violence is “wrong” and that peace is “right,” or at least “better.” Such convictions, however, are not shared by all people or groups. That is, to claim from the outset that violence is “wrong” and that peace is “right” is a conviction about “the way the world is or should be.” But since such a conviction implies that other ways of conceiving the world that justify or permit violence are “wrong,” it becomes simply another truth-claim. Relativism is therefore not a secure starting point for overcoming violence. We need to find a way to relativize those aspects of convictions which bring about or justify violence without abandoning the search for truth.
If we care about peace and peacemaking, we do so on the basis of convictions about “how the world is” or “how the world is to be.” The historic peace churches have always grounded their convictions about nonviolence and peacemaking in their Christology. A nonviolent Christology begins in the biblical narrative of Jesus and the cross. It takes seriously the Sermon on the Mount and the teachings of the New Testament. Nevertheless, it recognizes that ethics and narrative alone are not enough. As in the New Testament, a nonviolent Christology needs to integrate an understanding of the Incarnation and the Trinity if it is to sustain the faith and practice of peacemaking communities in a violent world. A community that wants to contribute to peacemaking must also pay close attention to the way its convictions are formulated and communicated, and to how they relate to praxis. Jon Sobrino, a Latin American theologian of liberation, has written, “We need words and an authoritative word if we are to give expression to our faith and share it through reciprocal communication . . . Dogmatic formulations are . . . a historical necessity for a church composed of human beings.”
Why dogma? And why christological dogma? Not because it says everything that needs to be said or because it will be used every day. And certainly not because we yearn for some abstract formulation of our faith that has no relationship to everyday concrete reality. In this essay I purposely started with history and narrative, which is, after all, how the early church arrived at dogmatic or theological formulations, and which offers a model for us as well. Christological “dogma” does not tell us anything more about Jesus than the New Testament does, and thus needs to be interpreted through the New Testament narratives. “Take the formula of Chalcedon,” writes Sobrino:
From it we do not learn more about Jesus than we gain from studying his life, activity, and teaching in the New Testament. The function of dogma is not to provide us with additional knowledge. For even when a dogma says something very fundamental, it always says less than scripture.
Dogma has to do with the formulation of our convictions and how they relate to the convictions of others, especially those beliefs that we do not share with everyone else. Dogma should therefore be seen as a “limiting” statement, something that needs to be affirmed in certain contexts so we can get on with what really needs to be done, i.e., being peacemakers. “The intention behind dogma,” Sobrino argues, “is not to exhaust the content of faith but to defend some aspect of it, some aspect regarded as basic, against some error that threatens it.”
What is the possible error? It is not, at least in the West, the temptation to be “dogmatic” or to impose our faith on others. To the contrary. Pecisely because we care about peace; because we respect other people and their convictions; because we remember how doctrinal orthodoxy was used to control, exclude and kill us; because of the embarrassing history of Christendom; because religions do not have a good record of tolerance and nonviolence; because of the postmodern context and it suspicion of truth-claims being used to grab power-precisely because of all this we are tempted to think that a clear christological foundation for peacemaking is an embarrassing relic from the past and probably more of a hindrance than a help.
The possible error is to confuse the notion of “peace” with the idea that “no conviction or tradition may or should make the claim of being true for everyone.” It may be true that ultimate truth-claims lead to violence; but it does not follow that since Christian dogmatic truth claims have led to violence in the past, they will therefore always lead to violence. I maintain the contrary: A well constructed and “non-constantinian peace Christology” allows us both to ground peace in an ultimate conviction of “how the world is” while simultaneously denying the possibility of using violence to defend or impose our convictions. It will relativize those causes for which people have readily killed in the past while at the same time allowing us to claim that peace and nonviolence are “true” and correspond to both the intention and goals of human history.
A trinitarian and incarnational Christology makes several very fundamental claims about the world and history that are of utmost importance to peacemaking. First, the doctrine of a transcendent creator God relativizes the exclusive claims of those aspects of creation that can easily become “idols.” The doctrine of the “fall” helps to understand how family, race, language, money, country and self have all become criteria to justify and use violence. The biblical critique of idolatry makes it clear that one may not attribute ultimate meaning to anything in the created realm. Believing in a creator God who is related to, but “above,” the created world means that believers cannot attribute ultimate status to any institution, group, thing or person that is a part of the created realm. Only God deserves such worship. That is why Abraham and Sarah needed to leave “family and country” to get beyond the logic of Babel. The transcendence of God, the fall of humanity and the ensuing critique of idolatry are all fundamental for peacemakers.
Second, a trinitarian and incarnational Christology also help us deal with the question of evil. The narrative of the fall, which ends up with Babel, tells us that evil has its origin within history and is therefore not part of the original and good creation. Evil entered the world because of human choice and desire. Creation was accomplished by God’s word and not by violence, and therefore violence is neither inevitable nor part of God’s intention for human life and history. Nevertheless, evil precedes our coming into the world and has become a power that manifests itself in all realms of life and culture, including nature itself. On the one hand, we maintain that evil has its origin in human choice; yet on the other hand, being born into a world of evil is not something that can be chosen.
The doctrine of the Incarnation tells us how God has dealt with evil. Because God is love and refuses to accept human rejection, God chose to enter into history and to become a part of it in his very flesh and blood. By an act of self-giving love God chose to assume evil, to break the vicious circle of evil and violence, and therefore to defeat its power. The cross of Jesus demonstrates how God deals with evil, for it is God at work.
No other religion or worldview has this understanding of the world, of evil and of how it has been nonviolently overcome. Ren Girard’s work clearly illustrates how the cross of Christ, especially in relation to violence, offers a unique perspective among other world religions or mythologies.
If God is the ultimate source of reality, if God is fully present and active in the Christ-event and chose to deal with evil in this specific nonviolent manner, it means that nonviolent love is part of the very fabric of the universe. And it means that we are to respond to evil in a similar manner. The resurrection of Christ attests to God’s approval of the “way of the cross,” and it demonstrates that the power of evil and death have been defeated. Nothing, not even death, can stop or hinder the working out of nonviolent love in human history.
The resurrection therefore confirms the divinity of Jesus-his ultimate identity with the God who sent him-and is to be understood as God’s approval of the cross as the way in which the powers of evil and death are defeated. If we disregard evil, if we are unwilling to confront the dark side of our own selves or to recognize that the solution for evil comes from beyond us, our efforts at peacemaking will probably end in despair. As Stanley Hauerwas has argued:
We must be trained to see ourselves as sinners, for it is not self-evident. Indeed, our sin is so fundamental that we must be taught to recognize it; we cannot perceive its radical nature so long as we remain formed by it.
Ulrich Mauser also relates peacemaking to a theological understanding of evil:
Christian peacemaking goes to the roots of evil. It cannot be content with seeking remedies for the symptoms of the world’s malady in its fever for conflict. Rather, it penetrates to the cause of divisions and overcomes the proclivity to conflict by abdicating every loyalty except that which resides in the one God. For it is the one God who has brought peace to all of humanity-in the death of the one Lord on whose presence in the Spirit the building of a truly united humanity depends.
Our discussion about dogma can now be related to what was previously said about convictions. Convictions are important for how we live and act. Stanley Hauerwas claims that “we are what we see.” Because we see according to our convictions-i.e., our Christology-having the right convictions is the first step in formulating our ethics. For Jon Sobrino christological dogma has very concrete ethical implications. The incarnation-God’s self-giving, nonviolent love on the cross-demonstrates “the way” in which we become associated with what God has done. It shows how we become “children of God”:
The Son does not simply reveal the potential filiation of all human beings with God. He also reveals the very process of filiation, the concrete way in which human beings can and do become children of God.
The way of the cross portrays how God in Christ confronted and defeated evil. If that “way” does not become our “way,” then our theology is inoperative:
Human beings cannot simply stop with the doxological statement that they are children of God, or that they can become such. They must go on to follow the concrete path to filiation. Herein lies the ultimate importance of analyzing the figure of Jesus in historical categories. . . .
Two observations will close this discussion of Christology. First, our doctrine of Christ must be capable of being interpreted anew in each generation. Attending to our convictions implies a constant review of the meaning of dogma in our own context. The questions of Nicea and Chalcedon may not be the most pressing ones for today. The meaning of Christology is always bound to time and space. But if the creeds make valid statements-as the Church has confessed throughout the centuries-then they have important contemporary implications as well.
From a peace church perspective, the possibility of historical interpretation also implies that christological dogma has been wrongfully used and interpreted in certain times and places. Why? Because it has not always produced “christological” behavior. In Sobrino’s words:
The Chalcedonian formula continues to be true insofar as there really continue to be followers of Jesus, people whose concrete discipleship professes Jesus as the Christ. To put it positively, the ultimate verification of the truth of Chalcedon’s christological dogma lies in the course of later history.
Second, in the Christian context, our ultimate convictions should lead us inevitably to worship, to doxology. “A dogma,” writes Sobrino, is a doxological formulation that marks the culmination of a whole process of Christian living and Christian reflective thinking.”
An incarnational Christology claims that, in Jesus we see God. But to claim God as the origin and source of everything, including ourselves and the peace we long for, also means that we are not the ultimate source of our identity and our knowledge. To speak of God in such a way purports that the modern or postmodern ego must be epistemologically relativized. We know because we are known, and to truly know means to acknowledge that we are known:
To reach the point of making a doxological statement, the one making it must experience a rupture, must take a leap; and this leap from a historical statement to doxological statement about God must take the form of an act of self-surrender. In every doxological statement we find the surrender of the finite “I” of the human person. We can no longer verify or maintain control over the content of our affirmation about God; we sacrifice our ego and allow ourselves to be controlled by the mystery of God. Thus dogma, insofar as it is a doxological statement about God in himself, presupposes the surrender of the thinking “I” to the mystery of God.
If we cannot surrender ourselves to God in worship, we will not be capable of “following Jesus.” In worship our convictions shape us as individuals and communities. In worship we find forgiveness for our sins and weaknesses and the strength to persevere and to suffer in difficult situations. Worship calls to mind what it means to speak of God and enables us to give thanks:
Therefore the peacemaker Christ, the reconciler of all things, can be glorified only in the prayerful adoration that worships the beginning and end of all things, leaping from the foundation of the universe in God directly to its consummation. This language of praise cannot be reduced to statements of fact based on the ordinary condition and apparent regularity of the world of nature. But the form of language rooted in prayer does not at all invalidate the statement itself; rather it may provide occasion for the reminder that every sentence about God is as fleeting mist unless it is conceived and born of prayer, in which all language of God has its origin. The peace of nature, won in Christ’s resurrection, is confessed truthfully and adequately only in the voice of one praying; in whose prayer God, who governs beginning and end, is at work.
Babel is fundamentally a political problem: the peoples of the world are dispersed and incapable of understanding one another. The good news of salvation in the New Testament- understood as a response to Babel-is also political. Through the peace of Christ racial, social and sexual barriers are broken down by those living in a new community. For the peace churches this insight into the political nature of salvation extends to include the refusal of violence and the embrace of active peacemaking as essential to the church’s mission in the world.
The church is central and a starting point for peacemaking does not imply that peacemaking efforts in other contexts are of no importance. Nevertheless, historical peace churches and other Christian churches have not always sufficiently understood the political nature of salvation and the importance of their church communities as a concrete response to the many and varied historical embodiments of Babel. Some Christian peacemakers have even despaired of the church because of its lack of comprehension regarding its peacemaking role. It is time to call the church back to peace, and the peacemakers back to the church.
When we think of being peacemakers, we must begin with the concrete existence of the Christian church. The first reason is biblical and theological. The biblical account of primeval history describes humanity as comprising scattered and dispersed peoples who do not understand each other. The “fall,” or the introduction of evil into history, is presented as having a concrete embodiment in social and political structures. Biblical salvation history begins as a conscious response to this situation and, in Abraham, identifies the beginning of a new people, a new socio-political reality, called to be a blessing to the scattered families of Babel. The peace of Christ, established through the cross and resurrection of Jesus, finds its most vivid and important expression in the new community of peace (“neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female”). Therefore, a biblical understanding of peace and peacemaking is first of all-but not only-a new community sent into the world with a theology and practice of peace and forgiveness.
Throughout its history the church has not always had this self-understanding of its message, teaching and practice. Few if any traditional ecclesiologies regard the “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” of the Epistles as a constituent element of the church’s very nature. Mennonites, for example, have defined the church as “people of God” or “community,” but have not excelled in the creation of multiracial or multiethnic congregations. Would not such an ecclesiological redefinition be a helpful beginning for understanding the political nature of salvation and the church’s existence in the world? Could not this “anti-Babel” peace element of the Gospel become part of our ecumenical discussions on the nature of the church? If peace and peacemaking were incorporated in our ecclesiology in this way, the worldwide church could conceivably be one of the most powerful forces for creating peace on the planet.
A second reason for seeing the church as central to peacemaking is more practical and ethical in nature, and calls us constantly to honesty and humility. If we are not capable of structuring our common lives on the basis of our most fundamental convictions about peace in the midst of our own communities, then we should hesitate to offer our solutions to others. Mennonites, while having nothing to be ashamed of in terms of comparative church history, should be fairly humble about offering their peacemaking capacities to others. Only since the 1980s has the language of “peacemaking” replaced the earlier “nonresistance.” It is not clear that Mennonite ethnic and cultural separation from the world is a positive model for peacemaking in the context of a globalized world, nor have we successfully and totally integrated the new concept of peacemaking into our life and practice.
The third reason for keeping the church central is that the concrete embodiment of convictions shapes history. Mennonites, Quakers and Brethren have a long history of being minorities. Sociologists have noted that minorities with strong convictions can make important differences in terms of how a given society evolves or develops, in part because such groups cannot impose their points of view but must rather convince by dialogue and example. The concrete positive effects of embodying the Gospel can also be discerned in the history of churches in majority situations. In spite of the constantinian perversions of the Christian Gospel, most serious scholars would argue that the concrete embodiment of the Gospel in the lives of Christians throughout the centuries of the Christendom has made important positive differences in the course of history.
Finally, peace churches-at least the Mennonites-need to be more serious about ecumenical dialogue and relationships. If the church is truly “neither Jew nor Greek,” if it is a community of peace, then according to the early creeds it must also be “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” Church history did not commence on the fringes of the Reformation in Zurich in the sixteenth century. Our own existence and tradition is the result of brokenness and conflict within the western church. Yet I have seen little awareness or lamenting within Mennonite circles about the brokenness of Christ’s body in the world. The current dialogue among historic peace churches and the significant contact with the World Council of Churches serves as an important reminder that we have often been absent in peacemaking efforts among Christians and that a considerable number of the world’s Christians outside the circles of the WCC (whether Evangelical or Catholic) are not yet direct participants in our conversations.
Missiology and mission
Christology and ecclesiology cannot be disassociated from mission. The Abrahamic response to the Babel narrative includes the formation of a new people who will be a blessing to all the families of the world. The new community has received a mission. Peace in Christ, embodied in the community of “neither Jew nor Greek,” exists for the benefit of the entire world.
This sense of mission is not evident to all those involved in peacemaking. In a recent study of the religious convictions of Mennonite peacemakers, Jewish scholar Marc Gopin formulated some very interesting observations:
In the Mennonite circles that I have studied, it appears that a number of people who engage in peace work are uncomfortable at the very least with the most aggressive interpretation of mission, namely, the active process of converting as many people to Mennonitism or Christianity as possible. Some are uncomfortable with proselytizing altogether, while others are committed to mission in the sense of a religious calling and are looking to define “peace work as mission.”
At least part of the reticence to be involved in mission, or some forms of mission, is the perceived arrogance of the undertaking itself and a corresponding commitment to pluralism. Here we need to revert to our discussion of convictions and Christology. By definition, peacemakers become involved in the lives of others. Their desire is to bring “peace” into concrete socio-political situations of conflict or war. Only with great difficulty could such efforts not be understood as sharing a truth claim about how the world is or should be. Those who do so believe that peace is better than war (often firmly enough to risk their very lives); they are convinced that mutual understanding is better than violence, that the world would be a better place if people lived in peace. As Lesslie Newbigin declares of the Gospel: “We believe that it is indeed for the healing of the nations, but it cannot be this if it is not true.”
Mission has not always been considered highly-and sometimes rightly so. But a mission theology having peace and peacemaking at its core could help mission-minded people avoid major mistakes, such as the desire to impose Christian faith. It could also help those committed to peacemaking to see that their beliefs and their actions are closely related to God’s project for the world and are therefore part of the “blessing” to all the nations.
Missiology, Peace and Convictions
As I have attempted to show, Christian peacemaking flows out of some very basic christological convictions. Of course, it is possible to believe otherwise, and many well intentioned people do. But alternative approaches will arise from other truth claims that also need to be justified in the realms of public discussion and historical reality. If God has not restored peace through the cross and resurrection of Christ, then one needs to find another basis for becoming involved in peacemaking. If we believe that peace has indeed been reestablished, then we should be compelled to share our conviction that the world is not as it appears and that history is moving in a direction that is not obvious unless one is trained to see it.
Holding a conviction and organizing our lives around it implies testing and sharing that conviction with others. How is this accomplished? It happens first of all in our own lives and our own communities:
. . . the glue that binds convictions into a single set is their mutual relation to the life of the person or (normally) the life of the community in which he or she shares. The unity of “conviction sets” is the rough but vital unity of shared life, the narrative in which they cohere.
Convictions always become visible and concrete. This visible and concrete aspect is an important part of how we “justify”-that is, explain to ourselves and share with others-exactly what our convictions mean.
It is our responsibility, first of all, to be “convinced” of our own convictions; otherwise there is no good reason to maintain them. Life itself-and even more, the life of a community engaged in the world-is itself an attempt to render credible, to ourselves and to others, the convictions that make us who we are. Life within a community of conviction thus implies contact with others and sharing convictions through example, discussion and all other means of communication. “In the broadest sense,” write McClendon and Smith, “one tries to justify one’s conviction set (or one’s life) by living it. Yet life includes talk, and persuasion, and reflection, and certainly change. . . .
The “justification” process also includes the history of the community and the kinds of lives it produces over time, across the generations. If a peacemaking community claims that its convictions about peace are only valid for its own members, it effectively removes any reason for entering into the lives of those who do not share those convictions. If peace is “right” or “better,” and if we want to share that insight with others in situations of conflict, we are by definition trying to show others that our convictions are well founded and true. Peacemaking therefore necessarily involves “mission,” i.e., the sharing of conviction by action, example or persuasion. In his study of Mennonite peacemakers, Mark Gopin came to a very similar conclusion:
Mission, as they understand it, has propelled them into the world. They see conflict resolution, which by definition is a rather invasive process of entering into someone else’s culture and problems, as a necessary means to follow Jesus’ role model as peacemaker and as justice seeker for those who are injured. . . . The idea of mission pushes them into the field and so does a commitment to actively engage issues of justice and injustice in such a way that they can never again be accused of quietism and selfishness in the face of evil.
Even so, the Mennonite memory of persecution at the hands of those persuaded of the truth of their own religious convictions, combined with Mennonites’ commitment to nonviolence, brings about a different way of sharing convictions, of entering into the lives of others, of being missionary. If nonviolence is at the heart of our conviction of who God is and how the world is to be construed, then being missionary will mean something quite different than if our notion of truth allowed or instructed us to impose that truth, or to assume that all people need to embrace it, whether or not they so desire. In Gopin’s words:
This awareness has generated a creative tension that, in turn, has created an unusual spiritual philosophy of intervention, which is deliberately benign in its execution and mode of interaction with others. It propels the adherents into conflict resolution and social transformation and then restrains them from the natural human urge-and the urge of institutions, both religious and secular-to refashion the world, violently if necessary, in one’s own image. This tension requires constant self-scrutiny and a spiritual community that restrains itself and its members from slipping into aggression.
As Christian peacemakers, we believe in the God who created the universe and that all human beings reflect the image of God. We believe that God causes the “sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” We believe that God deals with evil through self-giving love. We believe that love is an essential part of truth, that God is love and that truth is love-love of God, of self, of the sister and brother, of the neighbor and of the enemy. We believe that God’s nonviolent love is the foundation of the world as it was made, that this nonviolent love is God’s intention for the world and for history, for how we are to live and to relate to others. If then we are to be “missionaries” of this conviction, we will need to demonstrate this truth not only through our words but also in our lives and actions, within and among our communities. But by its very nature, the truth we have just described cannot be imposed-and any action of violence or any desire to dominate or manipulate other people is a contradiction of the truth in which we believe and want to share. To be part of such a mission means that we need God and we need community, a combination that unites Christology, ecclesiology and missiology. Thus understood, writes Ron Kraybill, “peacebuilding is only possible as it is grounded in a community of people who share a common vision of reality and who are ready to work actively, even self-sacrificially, to extend that reality to others.”
One final question remains in relation to mission. In today’s world of religious pluralism: How can one claim the truth of the Gospel as a missionary? For many people interested in peace and peacemaking, the history of Christianity and past Christian behavior towards Muslims and Jews seems to exclude any continuing efforts at sharing even the gospel of peace, at least in any way to suggest the possibility of changing one’s mind about matters of faith. We have much to repent of in our own history, but we also have resources for self-criticism and the possibility of asking forgiveness. If peace and nonviolence had been at the heart of earlier mission efforts and ecclesiologies, such perversions would not have been theologically justifiable. A serious rereading of Christian history from a peace church perspective would thus be an important contribution to both ecumenical and interreligious dialogue.
In spite of a very painful history-which, if nothing else, proves that Christians are human and that sin is an ever present possibility-and the postmodern temptation to be tolerant and pluralistic, we do well to recall that no position is finally exempt from some kind of truth claim and that the Gospel of peace has always been a stumbling block. Claiming the uniqueness of Jesus has never been easy; and the church has always been tempted to do otherwise, either by imposing Jesus’ uniqueness or by evading its scandal. However, our choices are stark: Do we want to proclaim the uniqueness of peace in Christ, or the uniqueness of a worldview that says that the only truth is that there is no final truth? If truth depends only on socio-historical conditioning and how we view the world, if there is no discernable shared meaning or direction to life and history, do we not end up in a world where Babel is the only real possibility?
History might be compared to a trial where peacemakers are witnesses, not judges. We know what we have seen and what we have been told. But we do not know all that it means or will mean. Ultimate truth is eschatological in nature and therefore not in our possession. Being a “missionary peacemaker” does not necessary imply that God works nowhere else other than in the church, or that we are making a judgment on the “eternal destiny” of non-Christians. That is not my claim, nor do I think it to be the claim of the biblical tradition. But missionary peacemakers do proclaim that evil and death have been confronted and defeated. Because of that confrontation, we may now enter into that victory, even though it might mean suffering, since the victory itself was won on a cross. Because of that victory, we believe that people can live together, understand and forgive each other. We believe that love is stronger than hate, and that might does not make right. We believe that self-giving love and nonviolence are at the heart of what the world and history are about.
If we believe all that to be true, is it not truth worth sharing?
. “The …narrator has told the story of God and man from the time mankind began, and this story is characterized on the human side by an increase in sin to avalanche proportions. The sins of Adam and Eve, Cain, Lamech, the angel marriages, the Tower of Babel-these are stages along the way which has separated man farther and farther from God.”-G. Von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972), 152.
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. “Finally, the tower of Babel demonstrates the folly of the most illustrious civilization and religious system of the day. Their attempt to reach up to heaven is the acme of folly and prompts mankind’s dispersal over the face of the globe. Without the blessing of God the situation of humanity is without hope; that seems to be the chief thrust of the opening chapters of Genesis.”-Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary-Genesis, li.
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. Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary-Genesis, 239. Also: “Selon la logique des tentations et des ruptures qui jalonnent Gn 1-11, l’auteur raconte comment l’humanit veut chapper sa condition et atteindre l’espace rserv Dieu seul.”-Michel Quesnel and Philippe Gruson, La Bible et sa culture (Paris: Descle de Brouwer, 2000), 77.
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. “L’unit de langage voque au v. 1 est ici discrdite parce qu’elle est mise au service d’une puissance qui se veut universelle : ‘une seule langue’ signifie une pense unique, une idologie totalitaire, avec une centralisation politique, morale, religieuse de tous les peuples sous l’autorit d’un seul pouvoir, l’ombre d’une seule ziggourat.”-Quesnal and Gruson, La Bible et sa culture, 77.
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. In the Babel narrative, God comes down to earth, both to punish and to prevent imperialism. God’s wrath, writes Van Rad, is also meant to protect humanity from even worse consequences of a “brave new world.” “Therefore God resolves upon a punitive, but at the same time preventive, act, so that he will not have to punish man more severely as his degeneration surely progresses. . . . Yahweh’s interference has a preventive character.”-Von Rad, Genesis, 149, 151.
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. “But the tower of Babel is not followed immediately by a hopeful sequel; the years roll on without a hint of renewal. The last word is Babel. It is as if to say, man must leave Babel, its proud dreams and its God-defying ways, if there is to be hope. And it is with Terah and Abram departing from Ur . . . that the saving history of the patriarchs begins.”-Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary-Genesis, 245.
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. “It is therefore not wholly apt to find in ch. 11 that conclusion to the primeval history, as is usually done, for then the primeval history has a much too independent and isolated importance. Rather, its real conclusion, indeed its key, is ch.12: 1-3, for only from there does the theological significance of this universal preface to saving history become understandable.”-Von Rad, Genesis, 154.
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. Cf. John Howard Yoder’s discussion of 2 Corinthians in The Politics of Jesus, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 221-23 . It is obvious that I am heavily dependent on Yoder and to the exegesis which underlies his work on the “social nature of justification.” I claim no originality on this point and am merely trying to suggest that reading these texts in the light of the Babel narrative reinforces the global peacemaking potential of such a perspective.
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. “This messianic peace, which is Christ in person, is the elimination of a hostility which had so far split the world into two parts between which real peace was impossible.” “After the conquest of the Persian empire by Alexander the Great, and the development of the Hellenistic successor states at the end of the fourth century B.C., Hellenistic society was divided by the consciousness of belonging either to the Greeks or to the barbarians. . . . the Romans are now added as a new element among the ruling class, dividing the world population into Romans, Greeks, and barbarians.”-Mauser, Gospel of Peace, 154-55.
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. “The concern of 2:11-22 is the emergence of an alternative society, grounded on peace, spreading peace and preserving peace. . . . The peace on which the church is founded, in which and for which the church lives, is a visible, concrete, and society reality. It is charged to give evidence of the one God by maintaining in its unity the peace that has overcome even the most severe of all divisions.” -Mauser, Gospel of Peace, 160, 163.
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. That these cosmic elements are not without linkage to history or to the existence of a new community is clear later on in the epistle where it is explicitly stated that the “peace of Christ” brings about a new social reality. “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and is in all. . . . Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body, you were called to peace” (Col. 3:11-15).
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. But this pacification campaign (Col. 1) is also the reconciliation to God of all that is in heaven and on earth. Mauser writes, “God’s conquest of the powers in heaven and on earth is not aimed at their eventual destruction but at their restoration to a place and function in which resurrection unleashes its power to re-create. No terrestrial or celestial reality is left outside the resurrection power of the firstborn from the dead.” He continues, “In the firstborn from the dead the elements of the world are reconstituted and therefore also affirmed. Their reconstitution and affirmation has not happened through their own power. They are forced into a new order of all things through the event, comparable only to creation itself, in which God re-creates nature in resurrection. But in this re-creation, nature throughout heaven and earth has come into its own. The universe with its myriad of known and unknown realties is, in the event of Christ’s resurrection, reinstalled as God’s good creation.”-Mauser, Gospel of Peace, 147, 148.
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. John Howard Yoder tried to do as much. For example, he claimed that the position developed in The Politics of Jesus “on the concrete historical-political humanity of the Jesus of the Gospel accounts was compatible with . . . the core meaning of ‘incarnation’ . . . and was also an appeal to . . . classical catholic Christian convictions properly understood.”-J. H. Yoder, The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel (Notre Dame: U. of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 9.
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. “I suspect that the effort to retain a theology-in-general has succeeded more in enabling Mennonites to identify with some version of wider Christendom than it has produced a genuine peace theology for the Mennonite churches or has persuaded other Christians of the truth of Christian nonviolence.”-J. Denny Weaver, Anabaptist Theology in Face of Postmodernity: A Proposal for the Third Millennium (Scottdale, PA: Pandora Press and Herald Press, 2000), 67.
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. For the rest of this paper, the term “conviction” will be used in the following sense: “A conviction . . . means a persistent belief such that if X (a person or community) has a conviction, it will not easily be relinquished without making X a significantly different person (or community) than before.” This is the definition given by James Wm. McClendon Jr. and James M. Smith, Convictions: Defusing Religious Relativism, rev. ed. (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1994), 5. It has also been argued that the case for the coherence of personal, individual identity cannot be made without reference to this type of conviction: “Thus, we can make a fair case for the proposition that the very concept of person requires convictions, since to be a person is to have a sort of persistence through time that convictions alone provide. Again, some have argued that to be rational one must have some one principle that organizes one’s choices. Such a principle would surely be convictional.”-Ibid., 106.
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. “. . . the glue that binds convictions into a single set is their mutual relation to the life of the person or (normally) the life of the community in which he or she shares. The unity of conviction sets is the rough but vital unity of shared life, the narrative in which they cohere.”-McClendon and Smith, Convictions, 99.
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. Lesslie Newbigen, Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1991), 33. “Premises, no less than its conclusions, are convictional. Nor is there anything shameful about arguing from premises that are convictions. Convictional ground is ground-the only kind of ground on which anyone ever stands.”-McClendon and Smith, Convictions, 118.
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. “There is a general argument against relativism if taken seriously: it is paradoxical to the point of self-contradiction. For it holds, first, that one can view reality only from one’s own perspective, and, second, that they know perfectly well that interconvictional justification or criticism of convictions is not possible from any perspective. If as relativists claim they are so enclosed in their own perspective, however, how can they know what is impossible to all others ?”-McClendon and Smith, Convictions, 149.
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. “Rather it is our . . . conviction that we must attend to the distinctiveness of our language, and to the corresponding distinctiveness of the community formed by that language, because it is true.”-Stanley Hauerwas, Against the Nations: War and Survival in a Liberal Society (New York: Winston Press, 1985), 5.
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. “Dogma is an explanation of Scripture, not vice-versa. . . . A dogmatic formulation embodies the end result of an epistemological or cognitive process.”-Sobrino, Christology at the Crossroads, 318, 323.
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. “The proper logical order of Christology is the chronological order. We are justified in starting our Christology with the historical Jesus because that is the only way in which our dogmatic formulas can have any real meaningfulness.”-Sobrino, Christology at the Crossroads, 334. “Doctrines, therefore, are not the upshot of the stories, they are not the meaning or heart of the stories. Rather they are tools . . . meant to help us tell the story better.”-Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom (Notre Dame: U. of Notre Dame Press, 1983), 26.
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. Cf. Walter Wink’s comparison of the biblical creation narrative with other ancient Near Eastern creation myths in Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 13-31.
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. “La parole vanglique est la seule problmatiser vraiment la violence humaine. Dans toutes les autres rflexions sur l’homme, la question de la violence est rsolue avant mme d’tre pose. Ou bien la violence passe pour divine, et ce sont les mythes, ou bien on l’attribue la nature humaine, et c’est la biologie, ou bien on la rserve certains hommes seulement (qui font alors d’excellents boucs missaires) et ce sont les idologies, ou bien encore on la tient pour trop accidentelle et imprvisible pour que le savoir humain puisse en tenir compte : c’est notre bonne philosophie des Lumires.”-Ren Girard, Je vois Satan tomber comme l’clair (Paris : Grasset, 1999), 284. ” C’est le propre des mythes que de cacher la violence. C’est le propre de l’Ecriture judo-chrtienne que de la rvler et d’en souffrir les consquences.”-Girard, Je vois Satan, 228.
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. “In and through Jesus’ radical surrender to the Father, which was confirmed by his resurrection, a special relationship between Jesus and the Father is established. That is the historical background that moves us toward doxologically affirming the divinity of Jesus in relationship to the Father.”-Sobrino, Christology at the Crossroads, 336.
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. “First we are told what God has done before anything is suggested about what we are to do.”-Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989), 83.
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. “If the christological formula makes a statement that is universally valid at its core, then this means that it must be subsequently interpreted in different historical situations and cultures. . . . If Christ really is the eternal Son of God, as dogma says he is, then there must be a history of Christology.”-Ibid., 341.
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. Ibid., 324. “The positive function of dogma is to express in theological language the same thing that is expressed in the liturgy of hymns of praise and joyful thanksgiving and that is expressed in real life in the language of concrete praxis.”-Ibid., 325.
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. “The name we Christians give our politics is ‘church,’ since we believe it is the determinative community that makes all we do intelligible.”-Stanley Hauerwas, Christians Among the Virtues: Theological Conversations with Ancient and Modern Ethics (Notre Dame: U. of Notre Dame Press, 1997), xi.
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. Any community and politic is known and should be judged by the kind of people it develops.”-Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic (Notre Dame: U. of Notre Dame Press, 1981), 2.
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. “…on aurait tort de sous-estimer le poids qu’une minorit peut avoir dans une socit…Une majorit contraint tandis qu’une minorit doit convaincre. …On ne suit jamais immdiatement le point de vue d’une minorit, mais on en accepte certains lments au fur et au mesure.”-Frdric de Coninck, “Un groupe minoritaire qui professe des croyances exigeantes,” Eglise, Secte: deux mondes trangers, eds. Daniel Bordreuil, Frdric de Coninck, et al. (Clon d’Andran: Editions Excelsis), 1999), 67.
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. Jean Delumeau, Le christianisme va-t-il mourir (Paris: Hachette, 1977) is a very good example in this regard. After having denounced the perversions of Christendom in an Anabaptist- like way in the first half of the book, he shows that “in spite of” all that, there are numerous examples of how Europe was affected for the better by the simple preaching and living of the Gospel by ordinary and anonymous people throughout the centuries. In a more recent work, he argues that the legislation of Western Europe is presently much more “Christian” than it ever was during the height of the Christendom period, because of the centuries long presence of the church. Cf. Jean Delumeau, “L’histoire chrtien face la dchristianisation,” L’historien et la foi, ed. J. Delumeau (Paris: Fayard, 1996), 93-94. Ren Girard claims that if our world today cares about victims and human rights, it is because of a centuries-long “christianisation” of our mentality: “. . . depuis le haut Moyen Age, toutes les grandes institutions humaines voluent dans le mme sens, le droit public et priv, la lgislation pnale, la pratique judiciaire, le statut des personnes. Tout se modifie trs lentement d’abord mais le rythme s’acclre de plus en plus et, vue de trs haut, l’volution va toujours dans le mme sens, vers l’adoucissement des peines, vers la plus grande protection des victimes potentielles.”-Girard, Je vois Satan tomber, 256.
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. These insights have been developed exegetically. Linda Oyer’s careful work demonstrates how the Gospel of Matthew’s post-resurrection sending of the disciples can be understood as the formation of an “Abrahamic community” that is a “blessing to the nations” and that nonviolent discipleship and the teaching of nonviolent practice is very much a part of this mission.-Linda Oyer, Interpreting the New in Light of the Old: A Comparative Study of the Post-Resurrection Commissioning Stories in Matthew and John (PhD diss., Institut Catholique de Paris, Facult de Thologie et de Sciences Religieuses, 1997), I:142-86, 193-211.
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. Mark Gopin, “The Religious Component of Mennonite Peacemaking and Its Global Implications,” From the Ground Up: Mennonite Contributions to International Peacebuilding, eds. Cynthia Sampson and John Paul Lederach (New York: Oxford U. Press, 2000), 236.
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. “In the course of our discussion, it became clear that many of this volume’s Mennonite authors who are peace activists seem reluctant to proselytize because of the arrogance associated with that posture. . . . It seems to be . . . that modern Mennonites who engage in peacemaking and conflict resolution and who are deeply commited to tolerance and pluralism are caught in a bind that is rarely articulated.”-Gopin, “The Religious Component of Mennonite Peacemaking,” 237.
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. “In whose eyes must a justification be effective in order to be acceptable? The only possible answer is that a justification must be effective in the eyes of the community or the individual holding the conviction. If it is not justified in their eyes, in what sense is it a justification at all'”-Ibid., 172.
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. “Perhaps it is the very ambiguity of modern Mennonite entry into mission, their memory of brutalizing efforts to invade their lives by others centuries before, and the ever-present model of Old Order Mennonites preserving a strict notion of nonaggression that give the modern Mennonites the creative drive to forge a radically new way of engaging the troubled part of the world, the world of sin and violence. They seek a way of intervention that is radically nonviolent.”-Ibid., 238.
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. Gopin, who does not share Mennonite convictions, sees in them something important that should be part of how peacemakers become involved in difficult situations. Sharing convictions in word or deed does not means imposing them. As he says: “The characteristics of listening, relationship building, and cross-cultural sensitivity have been the key missing ingredients of Western engagement in peace and justice work, as well as in poverty relief. A high level of brutal, if unintentional, deafness and arrogance is quite common in international affairs, and the Mennonite method of intervention, a way of humble listening, may get not only a more moral path of intervention. It also seems to be a more rational and less wasteful path than that which is followed by many players on the international scene today.”-Gopin, “The Religious Component of Mennonite Peacemaking,” 243.
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. Ron Kraybill, “Reflections on Twenty Years in Peacebuilding,” in Sampson and Lederach, From the Ground Up: Mennonite Contributions to International Peacebuilding, 44. Gopin’s remarks also go in the same direction: “It must be remembered just how much the maintenance of community, Mennonite community, is key to the stories in our volume. . . . There may be an implicit awareness of the problematic isolation of intervenors. That is surely one reason why Mennonite international peace activists have been so intertwined with the Mennonite missions around the world. It is often the missions upon whose long-term presence, network of relationships, formation of trust, and secure sense of home the peacemakers initially build.”-Gopin, “The Religious Component of Mennonite Peacemaking,” 241, 242.
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. In terms of the importance of asking forgiveness in interfaith relationships, see John H. Yoder, “The Disavowal of Constantine: An Alternative Perspective on Interfaith Dialogue,” The Royal Priesthood: Essays Ecclesiological and Ecumenical, ed. Michael G. Cartwright (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 242-61.
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. “The gospel of Jesus Christ was first spoken into a world that was just as diverse in religion and culture as our own. Early believers who met the risen Christ were aware of the scores of religious options in the Roman world. . . . If Jesus’ death and resurrection simply were one way to human reconciliation with God, there would have been no compelling reason for the terrible suffering of Golgotha. It would have been possible to ‘let this cup pass’ from Jesus, because other less costly ways to restore humankind would have been available.”-J. Nelson Kraybill, “A Loss of Confessional Nerve: Anabaptist Scholars Must Do Better,” “Anabaptist-Mennonite Scholars Network,” May, 2001, 2.
The Mennonite Quarterly Review
From the Tower of Babel to the Peace of Jesus Christ
*Neal Blough is Director of the Parisian Mennonite Centre and Professor of Church History at the Facult Libre de Thologie Evanglique, Vaux sur Seine, France.