Monday, June 06, 2005

Why I am a Neocal Pacifist Part Two

I will try to reply to your concerns by way of sending a response to the published articles you sent me; as you may guess, I have good appreciation for much and some serious misgivings about other parts.

Your observation that my view is novel is not a new revelation for me; but that is rather the point. I reject the acceptance of a violent state (not to mention the dualism!) of Schlietheim, so to point out that I differ from the Mennonite view is only to reiterate what I already noted. I probably shouldn't admit it in such intellectual company (especially when Gideon says such nice things about my bookselling) but I've never read more than a handful of pages of Hauerwas, so he and his recently popular call to nonviolence isn't my main influence. I became a pacifist nearly 35 years ago while young in the faith, mostly by my naive studying the gospels. The neo-Calvinst movement--as explained by Pete Steen, Vandezande, Zylstra, Skillen, etc--has shaped my hope for Christ's transformation of culture (what Schaeffer called "substantial healing") which makes me want to press social institions to be what God intends in the new Earth. This includes my understanding of the high but limited authority of the state (so I reject the anti-authoritarianism of the anarachist pacifists.) (The aforementioned political mentors each have tried to talk me out of my nonviolence, each observing that it isn't Calvinist or realistic; perhaps I should listen to them.) I understand that this may lead to a view that is what you've termed "unstable" (and could bear unstable cultural fruit) but I don't think it necessarily follows that if one rejects lethal violence that there can be no legitimate authority, coercion or force, as you seemd to imply. Some Mennonites condemn even verbal coercion; many evangelical and Catholic pacifists are uncomfortable with force. In distinction, I think that the State is authorized to use power. But power--a God-given good--can be opened up in redemptive mercy or in violence. It ought not take to much sanctified imagination to think of ways this might happen---thse engaged in the science of conflict resoltuion have been seriously researching this for years. Just as some Old Testament wars were won through miracle-- prophetically pointing the way towards God's fuller intentions that will be seen in Christ's Kingdom--even legitimate cultural institions such as governments, may not trust in horses or use practices that mistreat the dignity of the image of God in others. Appropriate expressions of force, yes. Lethal or degrading violence, I am not convinced.

Recognizing that this view is a minority approach and novel, I may be willing to stand corrected. More urgent of a question, though, for those on this blog who stand more conventionally in the Reformed tradition on the situational use of killing---an approach that G. v.d. B. says is "quite clear"-- is how the current war meets the just war qualifications(last resort, for instance?) I've read Jean B Elshtain's book and almost found it compelling...

Thanks again for your patience and candor.

by: Byron Borger (URL) on 2005-05-30 23:29:42

Why I am a Neocalvinist Pacifist

As a feeble neo-Calvinist pacifist, who only will blog from time to time, I am very, very grateful for this fine discussion. Thanks to all. Let's keep thinking this stuff through, with the best resources of our tradition...Thanks.

Im not sure I can easily explain my admittedly vexing view. I’ve been re-reading Richard Mouw’s wonderful recent books---on common grace, on the “filling” of the New Earth, on freshly explaining TULIP. I wish I had his penchant for expressing a solid loyalty to and being rooted in our Reformed tradition and yet to supplement it with the best insights of the broader body of Christ.

I will admit that perhaps I just ought not call myself a Calvinian pacifist, since Calvin didn’t teach pacifism, and of course, neither did Kuyper. In that precise sense, my phrase isn’t proper. So admittedly, I’m trying to squeeze a new configuration here.

The point of my little post was, remember, to celebrate the discussion of these things, to affirm those who are working hard to continue this good discourse—Gideon explaining his change of mind away from nonviolence during his years in South Africa, the reflections about Lincoln, Jamie Smith’s comments. Good stuff!


To your question: most simply, I would say that unlike most Anabaptists who have a low view of the task of the State, (related, it seems, to their lack of adequate appreciation for the notion of creational ordinances) I want to generally affirm the high regard for statecraft and the authority of the state that characterizes the Calvinist tradition, and esp the work of Kuyper and his spiritual offspring. Further, that creational ordinances, illumined by the pertinent Biblical texts, understood in the unfolding covenanted framework of the history of redemption, point us towards glimmers of certain things the state should and shouldn’t do. I think from what little I’ve picked up about the broadly conceived notion of sphere sovereignty, that I affirm the neo-Calvinist view of the limits of the state. And I want to explore these duties and limits without a dualistic two-Kingdom view (Lutheran or Anabaptist) or, worse, demonizing the state a la Ellul, old Sojourners or Berrigan. With the Kuyperians I want to affirm the calling of the state in a world being recreated by Christ’s Rule and recall the specialization and limits of this calling. (It has, I think Dooyeweerd wrote, a mediating role, helping the various spheres unfold justly.)

So the question then becomes, if the task of the state is to do justice in this role, how best may it, as harbinger of the eschatological new creation, do its task in God-honoring and Christ-like ways. I affirm in principle the goodness of authority (authority structures/institutions are structured into the created order and further disclosed as part of God’s plan for His world) but do not think that that necessarily implies that the power that this authority wields (what good is authority without power?) may be lethal. The “sword” of Romans 13 (“ a little dagger”, it may be best exegeted, I’m told) denotes institutional authority and legal power, but it does not follow that it means literal, lethal violence on a grand scale, as in the waging of warfare. God-given institutions—like the state—which are given for our good are to be construed in light of what we know of the mercy of God’s grace. The reigning, Sovereign One, Christ Himself, has not authorized, in my view, magistrates to kill or to authorize others to kill. He himself will return with refiner’s fire, but until that Day of cosmic healing, we promote a historically relevant reformation of the assumptions of the nature of each social institution. “Taking every theory captive” we re-think, in Biblically driven ways, the norms for each sphere. The sphere of the civil order is mediated by the good institution we call the state; the norm /principles that guide the work of that institution is the doing of justice, which must be executed in a manner which is in keeping with the very notion of restorative justice; that it, it may not do violence, even as it is authorized to exercise (redeemed expressions of) real power.

(An admittedly weak analogy: some say “troth” is the norm for marriage—trust, loyalty, and such. The development of trusting relationships in a family ought not be developed in a manner that is inherently disloyal or untrustworthy. Yes, I suppose some parent could think they are teaching trust by tempting to throw their child off the balcony; yes, I suppose a husband could think he is helping his wife learn to trust him by intentionally lingering around unmarried woman. But the methods of troth-building ought not erode the very trust they are trying to develop. Similarly, the outworkings of the State—which I understand, I would like to think, in ways generally in keeping with Dutch neo-Calvinism—ought not to be done in a manner that is self-contradictory to it’s own unique calling. To be plain, the ends do not justify the means; methods must be congruent with goals, the justice doing of the state ought not erode the grace-filled restoration that God intends for his planet. And the Scriptures are clear: Christ comes to heal, not to destroy.)

Another brief note. Agreeing with a neo-Cal doesn’t make me one, I suppose, but I have greatly appreciated (if perhaps not fully understood, some might say) Al Wolter’s keen observation of the distinction between structure and direction. I have pondered how non-pacifist reformational folks may have misunderstood this when it comes to the state. The structure, of course, is the creational legitimacy and authority of the state; the directional matter wonders if the state’s unfolding is increasingly towards a restoring justice, to be executed nonviolently. To identify the essence of the state with its alleged necessity to execute lethal violence seems, to me, to confuse s & d; that is, for a God-given institution to commit acts of lethal violence is for it to be opened up in a disobedient direction, a direction which only causes further embeddedness in the ways of the world. Interestingly, both the anti-State Berrigans and the just war Calvinists seem to agree: the state, to be the state, has to be violent.

I know this is feebly said; I concede to using reformational phrases to try to convince you that I’ve got some connection to the tradition. And I am aware that the Reformed tradition has affirmed the legitimacy of limited lethal violence. I think the “always reforming” stuff might apply here: we’ve got it mostly right, but need to tweak our understandings of the way nonviolent power can express the God-ordained structure of the state’s authority.

I am grateful that my life has been blessed by the insights and witness of those attempting to work out in fear and trembling the implications of the Lordship of Christ over the whole of life; I am further encouraged and challenged by those, like yourself, you insist on doing this by thinking critically about the very notions that color and influence our assumptions about the nature of social institutions, their shape and their role, their structure and their methods of executing their tasks. I just think that neo-Calvinists who affirm this stuff ought to continue to ask (or revisit) the question, from time to time, if authorized violence and organized killing can faithfully prefigure the coming fullness of the reign of Christ, or build institutions that are able to endure in ways that are helpful, healing and powerful in doing what God calls them to do, in ways consistent with God’s revelation in Christ.

On a more personal note, I hope you don’t take my remarks as a mean or underhanded attack on your own sense of calling to serve in the military. That you are risking your life in a war zone---something I obviously think you ought not to be doing---may make my remarks seem excessively unrealistic. You are living out the trajectory and implications of your writings and research and I commend you for that. I consider you a friend for whom I pray from time to time, and worry about occasionally, knowing you are in harms way. I truly wish you well, and hope we can chat face to face again sometime.

by: Byron Borger (URL) on 2005-05-26 23:53:23
Originally Posted by Gideon Strauss on his site from his comment section.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Book Table Revival Begins Here!

In a matter of hours I will join the revoloution.