Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Christians and war (part one)

I'm glad to be part of a denomination that allows freedom on issues other than those that are central and essential to our Christian faith, while also calling for accountability to Scripture in all things.

I was raised Mennonite. So as a young Christian, at the age of 17, I took it for granted that Christians should not go to war. But I was influenced by a godly relative who pastored a Christian sect, and eventually left the Mennonite church and its version of the Christian faith. Coming to embrace something of a Christian just war theory.

After reading N.T. Wright a few years back, my theology was revolutionized into a kingdom of God in Christ, new creation predominating paradigm. I had been prepared for this in some ways by George Elton Ladd, Vineyard and dissatisfaction with Christianity as I knew it (even thinking about considering Roman Catholicism). Scot McKnight has helped solidify my stance in this. And there is much more reading I want to do around this issue of theological paradigm in general, and application from it.

What has influenced me to go back to reading the Bible more the way I read it as a Mennonite, is the truth that as Christians we are members of a different kingdom, not from this world. And the Lord's "Sermon on the Mount" (Matthew 5-7). I believe both have been largely lost in evangelical theology. Through the influence of dispensationalism (which by the way, in the name of "progressive dispensationalism", today is far better). Dispensationalists have said that "the Sermon on the Mount" is not for today or for the church. And that the gospel of the kingdom is for the Jews to proclaim. That we live in the gospel of God's grace. Never mind that Paul preached the kingdom of God.

This is the groundwork for a few more thoughts on this, in (a) post(s) to come. Today I just leave us with the encouragement and challenge to get into the Sermon on the Mount. An excellent place to start is where the sermon itself starts, the Beatitudes. Let me say upfront that I certainly don't question that there are people in the military seeking to follow Jesus, who can end up walking just as closely to him, as the most ardent Christian pacifist. Regardless of what we think about Christians and war, we can find much help in understanding the kingdom of God come in Jesus, through reading and meditating on this passage (Matthew 5-7; Luke 6:17-49 a rather parallel, "sermon on the plain"). This is at the heart of who we're called to be as the church. As the people of God in Christ living in this world.

I find the Beatitudes to be foundational as to what God's calling looks like among those who are following Jesus in this world. If these things are characteristic of those who are blessed, than we must look at our lives and churches, to see if this is characteristic of us.

How has "the Sermon on the Mount" impacted your life? What does it mean in your theology, thinking and life? Or what might you like to add here?


jps said...


Personally, the beatitudes are at the center of my theology. Two books have helped confirm that, E. Stanley Jones' The Christ on the Mount, which is now out of print, and Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship, now also released by Fortress Press as simply Discipleship.

I look forward to more thoughts from you on this.


Kim said...

I have posted in my blog, this same day what I entitled "Taking the Sword From My Hand" which deals with related issues.

There are so many ways that the Sermon on the Mount has affected me, I can't say in one place.

I know that I am stricken with the thought that we Believers function as God's agents here on earth. So when Jesus says "...they shall be comforted...they shall be satisfied...they shall receive mercy...they shall see God" the rigths and responsibilities of being His strike home. I can be His hand of comfort, of satisfaction, of mercy...if I am pure of heart others will see God in me. It makes the hair stand up on the back of my head as I write it....Kim

Ted Gossard said...

James, Thanks so much. My contribution will be humble. There is so much more reading I ought and would like to do.

I can't remember reading E. Stanley Jones. Though I love Bonhoeffer's "Cost of Discipleship".

Ted Gossard said...

Kim, Thanks for that. There is so much we can draw from in the Sermon on the Mount, in the Beatitudes themselves. And so much we need towards life change in Christ. We never get too far along to keep going over it. An expression of who God really blesses. Contrasted to who the world would consider blessed.

Anonymous said...

My theology and my own personal discipleship of Christ have been deeply affected the Sermon on the Mount. It was been a source of meditation for several years now. I guess I am so caught up in the life Jesus describes there: it is so unlike anything I would choose for myself, actually feels a little risky and dangerous to love that much, yet offers the only real blessing.

NT Wright has been important for me on kingdom thinking as well, though I haven't read nearly as much from him as I would like. Any recommendations?

Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts.

Ted Gossard said...

Charity, Thanks so much for sharing that. It's exciting to see how the Lord has put that into your heart, and how you've been working through that.

And I hear you on the Sermon on the Mount. It really sounds to me like you're further along in it for your life than myself.

"The Challenge of Jesus" by N.T. Wright, was the book from him that revolutionized my own theology. http://www.amazon.com/Challenge-Jesus-Rediscovering-Who-Was/dp/0830822003
The book from him I might recommend now, since it has a fuller scope (I'm nearly done reading it) is "Simply Christian".

Also the N.T. Wright page on my links has some nice downloads both to read and a few to listen to. In fact here's a download from the January Series of Calvin College in which he speaks for an hour on his recent book, "Simply Christian". I was in an overflow room seeing him on a big screen. Though I did get to shake his hand one time. Such a warm, loving person!

You might find that useful, unless you've already been there, done that.

Ted Gossard said...

Oh, here's the link on the download from the January Series:


andre said...


I'm late to this conversation but I'll join in to share what very little I know.

I interpret the Sermon on the Mount (SOTM) as very significant to us but also through the lens of the gospel. All of the bible is about the story of redemption - of Jesus' dying on the cross to atone for our sins, to bring us to God. Because of this, I view the SOTM as promises made possible because of what Jesus has done. I know some look at the SOTM as a list of things to do but I think the emphasis is on the promises of our Savior to his disciples.

Ted Gossard said...

Andre, Yes. It's all in grace and promise-oriented. And it's a reality of God's kingdom come to earth in Jesus. What this looks like. I take it to be something like that. Not simply a list of rules we're to try to keep.

Bob Robinson said...


It's been a busy week for me, so I've not been reading or writing as much in the blogosphere. Thanks to Scot who plugged this series, or I might have missed it!!

Thanks for sharing your personal background theologically. I wonder how many, no matter what background they come from, would resonate with what NT Wright has said. He has certainly captured my attention with his "kingdom of God in Christ, new creation predominating paradigm."

About the Sermon on the Mount: I came to faith in a dispensational church (though they have moved beyond that now). I remember talking to the preacher that made that church grow to its immense size (through the 1970s) and was amazed to hear him say that he had to be careful when he preached the Sermon on the Mount because it wasn't directly applicable to Christians. As you say, the dispensationalists have "progressed" from this, and thank God for that!

Ted Gossard said...

Bob, Thanks for your comment!

Yes. I'm sure there is much to learn from scholarly progressive dispensational scholars. Whether one is in that camp in their theology, or not. They at least can challenge one's thinking.

Though I have been taken captive by the paradigm I first found in N.T. Wright. Though I think he learned from others before him, like John Howard Yoder (my guess, but he does recomment Yoder's "The Politics of Jesus" in one of his books).

Ted Gossard said...

And, yes, Bob. I was inflicted with the bad doctrine of relegating the Sermon on the Mount to another era. Those who taught this "strange teaching" as I see it now, were influential. And even if I didn't buy into it entirely (can't remember), it did leave a doubt and cloud hanging over that passage for me, and for others, I believe.