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January 25, 2006



So the two options are the ways of:
1. Augustine and the later church
2. Jesus

So the emerging churches pacifism is because they are in line with Jesus? If you’re correct, it’s not just that the emergents are correct. The mass of historical Christians have been sinfully wrong. It just seems like a broad statement to push across as an uncontested fact.

Also, isn’t pacifism in the church only maintainable so long as the church consistently fails to ever grow in large numbers? If we were to grow large enough to completely sway the government, would we be a country w/o a military and a police force limited to just yelling stop (with great force no doubt). And though the just war advocates do look back into the OT, why is that not justified? Was it just a book about a coming messiah with everything else being errant filler?

Call Me Ishmael

Interesting dichotomy between Augustine and Jesus.


Great observation, Ryan. I have noticed the same leaning -- I think you hit the reasoning process right on the money.


Umm....I think I might have to take issue with your statement that the emerging church is one of the first post-Christendom movements in the west. There's the entire Anabaptist tradition - the Quakers and Mennonites - who have ALWAYS been pacifists and were never on board with the Christendom concept in the first place. What about the Catholic Worker movement? They were conscientious objectors back in WWII, when such a position was very much less than popular. The people at the LA Catholic Worker still get arrested for civil disobedience on a semi-regular basis.

And when you say "Western church", do you include the Catholic church in that? God knows the Catholics have their own abuses of power to contend with, but even the previous Pope took issue with the war in Iraq and wasn't looking to baptize anybody's government. Then there was the whole Sanctuary movement in the 80's...and there are some incredibly subversive nuns, and the Berrigans, as well.

Even within the evangelical church,(admittedly many steps behind in the whole peace-making category) Ron Sider, Tony Campolo and Sojo have been advocating peace-making since before many emergent types were born.

All that to say, I'm glad that some emerging churches are re-thinking the conservative evangelical approach to politics and war. That's great, but not unprecedented.

I realize this is a blog post, not your dissertation, so I don't want to be too hard on it. It's just that, as an interested observer of the emergent conversation, I frequently detect an unwillingness to step outside of emerging and evangelical circles and this leads to the tendency of thinking that the whole emergent thing is more original than it actually is. Peace-making is good - it's just not new.

Joshua Kirby


There really are only two ways. Augustine and, subsequently, Constantine brought about the idea of a Christian state, whereby "all things" were formulated and validated with the Christian title attached. Therefore, Augustine set precedents in his application of the Christian message for war mongering and empire building. It would be a stretch to imagine the peaceful Jesus validating such bloody massacres and blatant empire building. If I am remembering correctly, the Holy Roman Catholic Church emerged from the work of Constantine and subsequent emperors. I believe that it is not a stretch to recognize that all traditions of faith have come from or are a part of the Catholic Church. The point here is that most likly the tradition you come from or are currently apart of are and evolution of the Catholic Church, who, through the initiative of Constantine developed the church/state. Furthermore, the implementation of Christianity as impetus for the crusades led us down the same dark path as Constantine. Since the church's inception, groups have protested the blatant disregard for the peaceful message of Jesus. Christ became a battle call not a cry of compassion. Eventually, just-war theory emerged as a way of assessing the validity both religiously and ethically of war. However, there have been multiple instances of nonviolent movements causing great change in nations. An example would be the end of apartheid in South Africa or the civil rights movement in the US, Gandhi in India affecting social change. Lastly, it would be important to emphasize that compassionate nonviolent initiatives are very rare in the political scene. Rarely do nations reach out to their enemies in the name of peace without strings attached. How often, instead, do nations starve the population of a foreign country through economic sanctions, while we offer out the conciliatory branch of peace? Practicing Jesus radical lifestyle on a national level I feel is relatively untested. Furthermore, there is the significant problem that we live in a post-Christian nation. Therefore implementing the ethics of Jesus is almost equivalent to Constantine adopting Christianity as his guiding light; that is to say that it is dangerous to impose the Kingdom Ethic on those that do not hold that same ethic. Usually, when one attempts to force an ethic down a nations throat, you must you force or coerce, aka propaganda, think Hitler or Stalin. Therefore, seeing that Jesus is countercultural and nonviolent, Christians must find an ethical common ground if they wish to change policy because because God told me so is not enough to make a nonChristian change there point of view or alter policy. Finally, countercultural Christians must weigh the necessity of imposing their beliefs on a national scale. It is important that we voice our opinion, but not force feed it or condemn our fellow countrymen . . . so yes, the Constantine/Augustinian tradition and the Jesus ethos are really your only options. As to the validity of using the Old Testament as your guideline for politics, it would be helpful to note that Israel was not very successful with maintaining its own political sovereignty. Unless you are advocating constant war and invasion followed by the splitting of a nation and the eventual exile of both, I believe that following Jesus would be a smarter move. It must be conceded that he was killed for his beliefs, but just think of how influential his nonviolence was on history since his death and resurrection. HE CHANGED THE WORLD! Better to die for a cause (Jesus) than to commit genocide (Israel). The politics of Jesus . . . sounds like a book title (Yoder). Seriously, how influential were Jesus, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi.

Joshua Kirby

One note, there are a couple of typos, but the most significant one is when I substituted Augustine for Constantine. The sentence reads, "Therefore, Augustine set precedents in his application of the Christian message for war mongering and empire building." Substitute Constantine for Augustine. It would then read like this: herefore, Constantine set precedents in his application of the Christian message for war mongering and empire building. Thanks


Thanks for the summary Ryan... This may be a low blow but it is always interesting to hear this discussion and perspective from Americans!


Thank you for your extensive response. Blog discussions can turn ugly fast, so thank you for both the thought and tone of your response. Israel did have a fairly terrible run, but the reason for that is stated in a fairly straightforward manner in the bible. They followed after idols and rejected their god. They were not invaded because they believed war could be the correct action. When they were loyal to God, he supported them in their battles. I realize there are limits to what we can extract from the OT – I’m not pushing for the invasion and conquering of our promised land – but I cannot see where you are getting that their willingness to fight when needed led to their demise. Also, considering the union of Christ and the God of the OT, God’s commands to Israel and his declared actions need to be squared with Christ’s pacifism.

Also, regarding the Augustine/Jesus option, I think you are doing the same thing as Ryan.

1. Pacifism
2. Constant war and empire building based upon the validation of all earthly desires with the Christian title

Is there really no third way? Instead of validating a nation’s goal as Christian, could we seek to guide a nation to the actual values? I’m not sure how you make the leap from Augustine arguing a basic just war theory, through Constantine co-opting it and its being used historically to justify unjust wars, to that being the only option outside of pacifism. Why could a nation not simply justly apply the just war theory? Why is the only option war mongering? I don’t think the slope is that slippery. Honestly, almost every church structure has eventually led to a breakdown and abuse. Are churches the wrong idea? (Jesus wasn’t a part of one.)

Christ truly was peaceful (with the exception of the temple cleansing) during his earthly reign, but I am curious how far you believe this model of pacifism should run. I understand that war falls outside the range. What about police with guns? Night sticks? Does spanking qualify? Is it only actions leading to death or truly any show of painful force? I am asking this in full seriousness. A sticking point for Christ as the model of pacifism is how far we are to absolutize his actions on earth.


Wow, this got some interest! Thanks for contributing...

Mune, re: your first comment -- I am saying emerging churches root their practices in Jesus. I'm not starting a debate on just war vs. pacificism.

Christy, emerging churches are the first post-Christendom movements -- I am with you 100% that there were faithful prophetic communities during 400-1950. But they existed during the period of Christendom, not post-Christendom.

Christy, I never said or meant to imply that peacemaking was new or original to emerging churches at all. I acknowledge these movements as valid and prophetic, but they happened while there was still a semblance of Protestant closeness to power (which they opposed), and which, since the 60s, has been ever crumbling.

Mune, on your second post, yes, there are some other options -- and these would probably better as new posts -- Glen Stassen's just peacemaking for one -- taking concrete actions to prevent war (still rooted in the sermon on the mount).

Main point from my post -- we are in a newly formed post-Christendom context, and Christendom narratives no longer make sense for Christians seeking to be missionaries within Western culture. They must find alternative narratives somewhere -- emerging churches have found it in the life of Jesus and are therefore nonviolent in their interaction with the powers that be.

Thanks everyone!!


Ryan, you have touched on something that I've been wrestling with for a long time: I want to take the life and mission of Jesus as seriously as I take his death and resurrection, but I don't always know how to apply his life and teachings to 2006...
This is especially important in regards to this discussion about war and nonviolence.
I find two contradictory truths at the heart of my dilemma: 1) Jesus was a pacifist even though he had a just motivation for violence - the oppression, torture, and murder of innocents by a massive empire. 2) Pacifism (at least as I've seen it described in my ethics classes - including Dr. Stassen's) is horribly wishy-washy as to when it's okay to use violence. In other words,even though Jesus was nonviolent, pacifists routinely call for "peace-keepers" with guns to be placed in places where violence is taking place. When does a police action become something that Jesus would not have advocated? How can we know that? How do we stop genocide in places like Darfur if we don't go in with a more deadly force than the one enacting genocide?
I want to honor Jesus' life and teachings, and that takes a preemptive war off the table. But once we get past that black and white issue, I have found little that moves past philosophical musings and gives practical instruction about how to act when politics and dialogue fail... The usual response is that we need more politics, dialogue, and to look at what we have done wrong to cause the violence in the first place.
But there are some situations - like right now in Africa - that can't wait for politics, dialogue, or even much-needed repentance. What does Jesus have to say to those who are being ethnically cleansed? Does helping them (with a military presence potentially) violate Jesus' life and teachings?
Thanks for starting this discussion, and for the others who have thoughtfully written on this topic.

God's Peace, Rich


Sorry for stirring the pot again with my last post! I think we were writing at the same time. I'm with you on Just Peacemaking. That is something I will teach in my congregation...


Joshua, I forgot to thank you for your detailed post. I concur, primarily there has existed the two options for the church. Well done.

You are always stirring, and that is a good thing. It would be good to establish some things we agree on -- can we agree that it is always wrong for a Jesus-follower to kill? If Jesus' life was truly a pattern for us? If we are convinced by that line of thinking, then the killing option is off the table. Given those caveats, how to deal with these situations as Christians?

Could it be that we see military solutions because that is what we know how to do? Using force is the language we speak, the water we swim in? Could it be possible that there are whole other ways of addressing human conflict that might solve the roots of the problem better than military force? Can we put our efforts there?

Just borrowing the spoon and stirring as well ;)


Thank you for your response. I would love to see you address the issue of pacifism directly in the future. I can fully agree that many in the EC are basing their beliefs in Jesus and not a knee jerk liberalism. I only thought your presentation of the options was loaded, but i appreciate your clarification.


Actually, I think you got me thinking (stirring) about all this in your "Jesus the Missionary" class with Dr. Shenk. Anyone who reads these posts and goes to Fuller should take that class, in my humble opinion... It changed the way I looked at Jesus and his life...
I agree with Mune's last post - it would be a blessing to be able to discuss this topic a little more directly, if you are willing to host that discussion in the future... Thanks for giving us all a place to openly think about these issues...



Rich & Mune -

Really excellent questions about pacifism, and yes, being a pacifist involves a certain amount of cognitive dissonance. And it's more of a spectrum, not two polar opposites. You have to look at non-violence as a transformative spiritual discipline and way of life, rather than a completely coherent political philosophy. I declared myself a pacifist in 1992, and I'm still working out what that means. If you are a Fuller-ite and want to discuss pacifism, you should talk with the good people at Pasadena Mennonite Church, the American Friends Service Committee or the LA Catholic Worker. Feel free to e-mail me if you want contact information. (christy.lambertson@gmail.com)

Ryan - Yes, the emerging church is post-Christendom, but it's not like someone drew a line in the sand in 1950 and there's a hard and fast before and after. It's more of an evolutionary process, and the emerging church is emerging out of something - and the Christendom-era includes a long tradition of pacifism and creative counter-cultural and non-violent action, which I would hope the emerging church would interact with and acknowledge, rather than just claiming "the way of Jesus." Give the Anabaptists their props - that's all I'm saying.


What a wonderful conversation. And not surprising. I wonder, though, how much of the pacifism is both an embrace of Jesus while also being part of the general rejection of standard Evangelicalism.

The discontent which drives the initial bursts of Emergent thinking may also include the rejection of the standard politics of the Christian right, including war.

I do think it is arguable whether it is always wrong for a Jesus follower to kill. Bonhoeffer certainly disagreed with this notion. I certainly wouldn't doubt the faith of a policeman who killed in the line of duty.

Indeed, going along with Rich's stirring I wonder if the Good Samaritan would have been commended had he been able to stop the robbers in the first place and did not do so.

This is also an especially interesting question because I've long thought that one of the best potential 'fields' for the Emerging Church is within our military. However, if there is a strict non-violence mantra developing within the Emerging Church I guess this would rule out the conversation in this direction.

Though, if we were true to the "Jesus model" we might especially commend those in the military for their understanding of faith in difficult circumstances. Few in the Bible are commended as well as the centurions.

Scott Jones


Thanks for this post. I think you're right about emerging churches and the peacemaking ethos. But I wonder if it's appropriate to call it pacifistic for a couple of reasons.

First, pacifism is a rigorously absolutist ethical position, one which doesn't set well with the general emerging sympathy for approaching ethical issues in a nuanced fashion always mindful of the complexities involved. Perhaps something like a Barthian "practical" pacifism is more descriptive of the movement because of its allowance for exceptions to the norm (of course Yoder thinks that the allowance for the exception is actually a gaping hole that you can drive a truck through, but that's another issue entirely).

Secondly, the pre-Christendom church was often characterized by intense ecclesial discipline and could be as exclusive as it was inclusive. There were periods when the church seems to have been unwilling to even baptize soldiers, something that seemed to go hand and hand with its ethically rigorous stance on violence. How many emerging church's practice or are interested in practicing this kind of discipline? It's also interesting to note that the pre-Christendom church was often anything but anti-imperial. Origen for instance said that it made sense for Christians not to serve in the military because they could do more good for the Emperor on their knees praying for his victory.

Lastly, I wonder if emerging churches lean toward a peace ethos at least in part because of their social location. Most of the folks connected to emerging communities seem to be white and middle or upper middle class. These are people who many cultural commentators have pointed out are disconnected from the military in a way largely unprecedented in our history. I'm not talking about not serving in the military, but not even knowing people who serve or have served in the armed forces. There is a general cultural disdain for the armed services among the priveleged now, which may have racist and classist connectins as well, as our military tends to be composed of the marginal in our society. This is not to say that there aren't working class pacifists out there. There are. But it's interesting to note than among the Mennonites the working class folks are often not as uniform in their commitment to the peace tradition as their more cosmopolitan urban counterparts.

Thanks for a thoughtful post and a great blog.


Clint Walker

My conversion to pacifism occured in seminary after really digging into the issue.

In particular, I found the Politics of Jesus a compelling, and yet easy to read resource on the subject.

Brian M

I just finished reading Hauewas's, 'A Community of Character.' He does not directly talk about emerging churches being pacifistic but that would be a natural conclusion. He takes more pains in trying to define the nature of the church, and it's role and responsibility to government. He talks of the church's unique contribution to society through its powerful social ethic (which the church has when the church's identity is rooted in being a community with a sacred narrative). He also describes how the nature of our government and political system, a liberal democratic system, is based on Enlightenment influences. The goals of the church, he says, are not the goals of our society and those in church who think so, have blurred the mandates of the church and a secular system of goverment. Some believers want to bring back America to the time when it's cultural values were more moral than contemporary society, but what definition of morality are are people using- The Enlightenment type of relativistic morality, or the Christian morality which cannot be understood apart from living out our Christian life in community? How can there be clear interpretation of the church's role toward government if people are not aware that they need to define what they mean by morality. Just within the church,one group may define sexual sin as the crux of immorality while another, the dropping of bombs on innocent Iraqi children. When church petions the present administration to enact laws that uphold morality, how does the government interpret the meaning?

Anyway, to make a long story short, Hauerwas was fresh in my mind when I just read this discussion and it is interesting to note that 'Emerging Churches are Non-Violent' and some of the ensuing discussion could have been a chapter added in later revisions of book if he had them. His book was written in 1981.

I did appreciate Ryan's summary. Thanks


Patrick, yes, it is a complex issue -- I do believe those committed to non-violence can commend bravery, courage, responsiblity, comradeship without endorsing killing. Participating as a pacifist chaplain gets tricky though, as she or he must assess whether the comfort they give the soldier enables more killing...

Scott -- well said. Pacifism constructed in absolute forms would not sit well, while nonviolence as exemplified by Jesus probably would. That is why it is a bit hard to describe the phenomenon - other to say it in more narrativist forms.
I think your cultural insights carry much weight, but I think they contribute to the situation, not determine it.

Clint, I had the same 'conversion' from reading Politics of Jesus eight years ago...

Brian -- I think Hauerwas has much in common with the emerging church, especially as it relates to ethical stances and reasoning as well as the church's relationship to the government and America...

Drew Hage

Thanks for the fascinating thoughts! I really struggle with this issue. I wonder if there are situation where pacivism is no longer an option. I am reminded of the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor in Nazi Germany during World War II. He spent much of his life rebuking the church for not raising its voice on behalf of the victims of the holocaust. Although he initially believed that Christianity taught pacifism, Bonhoeffer eventually joined a conspiracy to assassinate Adolph Hitler. He argued that attempting to overthrow Hitler and the Riech was the duty of a morally responsible Christian. He wrote:

"We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who had suffered.”

Moved by the slaughter of Jews in Nazi Germany, Bonhoeffer believed that taking the risk of killing Hitler was to follow Christ who risked his life to defend the poor and the outcasts.


Casey T

It's actually incorrect to say that there are only two options when Xians face the issue of violence. It might be better to say that there are only two options that Xians WANT to acknowledge. Holy War is a third option. It was quite viable for a period of time, though less likely to publicly be acknowledged to day.
However, Just War tradition (there is no one theory of Just War) often slips into something like a Holy War.
There is also a fourth option, what John Howard Yoder calls the Blank Check. It goes like this: God ordains rulers. We in a democratic nation (re: USA) elected these rulers. Therefore, we must support them when they choose to go to war, etc. Thus, all kinds of violence are simply written off because "well, he's the President and we should support him and he believes in Jesus, etc." You may not want to call that Xian but a LOT of Xians buy it.
Your assesment is correct to locate a fundamental shift in Xian attitudes toward power and violence as time progresses onward from the 4th c. But I also agree with your detractor above who notes that Emergent Church (whatever that truly is) are NOT the first post-Christendom Xian movement. Like any other Protestant movement since Luther, you sound as if you wish to legitimate your own tradition as the best/right one.
Next, it's difficult to see how Emergent churches are not enslaved to cultrual trends when I so often read articles about Emergent churches which see trendy people sipping coffee on a cozy sofa, joyfully sharing what's in my heart. If anything, EC could be easily accused of advocating a consumer culture.
Finally, I think it's sad to say that EC cannot learn anything from tradition. "We're just interested in the Jesus story." With all due respect, bologna. Everyone has tradition, everyone acknowledges tradition, either reacting against it, modifying it, or just accepting it wholesale. Xianity as a tradition is a dialogue among the generations of the saints. I need to be in dialogue with St. Jerome, Luther, Tom Wright, and my Sunday School class whenever I study Romans. They may have something valuable to say.
EC has some helpful correctives, like most movements. However, I think that, in the end, unless it can achieve a more balanced appreciation of its place in the Story, it will eventually fall by the wayside.


Casey -- I've never said E.C. had no traditions -- of course they do -- you can't stand outside culture or ...
Post-christendom == post 60s -- seeker, new paradigm, purpose are still christendom oriented...
post meaning after...
ECs are in a consumer culture, as you and I are. The challenge will be to honor God within that -- to consumerism respond with generosity, etc. -- Phil Kenneson fruit of the spirit style...

Thanks for sharing...

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  • Hi, welcome to my former blog! My name is Ryan Bolger, and this is where I posted my thoughts on Jesus, culture, new forms of community, among other things. Come visit me at my new blog: http://www.ryanbolger.com. I still teach at Fuller Seminary in Southern California where I'm doing some writing as well. Feel free to bounce around the new or old website -- I hope it might stir your imagination -- feel free to stir mine as well by leaving some comments, preferably at the new site... Peace...


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