A Jesus I Don’t Recognize (My Response To Brian Zahnd)

This past week, as I scrolled through my twitter feed, I came across this tweet from Brian Zahnd (Pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, MO)

I followed the link to his blog post and opened up a twitter dialog with him concerning his position. During this dialog my friend Derek Vreeland (Disicpleship Pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, MO) jumped in and after several tweets back and forth, I suggested that we write on this issue. After all, it is difficult to flesh out a position in 140 characters. So what follows is my initial response to Zahnd’s post.

Brian Zahnd’s Thesis: Waging war is incompatible with following Jesus.

My Response: First, let me say that I am all in favor of peace. It is unfortunate that a great deal of world history (I have a Bachelors degree in History) can be summed up in one word – war. So, by all means, I agree that war should never be our first option but to say that “waging war is incompatible with following Jesus” hints of a naïve utopian vision of the world at best and fundamental misunderstanding of God’s justice at worst. Let me explain:

Championing a Jesus of peace without emphasizing the justice of God is problematic.

Peace and justice are two sides of the same coin. Zahnd would lead you to believe that the gospels present a Jesus whose primary concern is peace. But it is never peace without justice. The entire reason Jesus came to this earth was to satisfy the justice of God. In fact, Jesus drank the entire cup of God’s wrath poured out against sin – the innocent one, Jesus, for the guilty ones, all of us (2 Cor. 5:21). Without the shed blood of Jesus Christ (a gruesome and peace less event), we all stand condemned.

This same justice led Jesus to call the religious leaders vipers and whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23). It is the basis for him clearing out the moneychangers in the temple by force, driving them out with a whip and overturning their tables (Matt. 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-18, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-17). One could hardly consider these examples promoting a Jesus who cared only about peace. The argument has been made that no one was killed during this escapade but if Jesus’ primary concern was peace don’t you think he could have gone about these encounters in a more peaceful way? Why did he not exhaust all means possible to accomplish his objective (returning God’s house to a house of prayer) peacefully? The reason is clear – the justice of God.

We are both Jesus and Pilate.

One of the specific questions Zahnd mentioned that he always receives is concerning home invasion. How should you respond in that type of situation? His attempt at an answer to this question is riddled with problems. First, he puts forth the argument that this is a fictional scenario. Yet, turn on the news and you will see that exact scenario play out across this country. The reality of home invasion is true for too many people throughout our nation and to make light of it is pastorally insensitive. Second, he uses his “imagination” to respond to this scenario in a way that I hope is meant in jest. Providing for and protecting your family is a biblical responsibility (1 Timothy 5:8)!

What Zahnd fails to recognize is that we, as citizens in a democratic republic, are both Jesus and Pilate (as we encounter their roles in the gospels). Pilate was the Roman governor in authority at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and Jesus willingly submitted to his authority though he reminded Pilate that his authority came from above. God instituted government and gave government the responsibility to exercise justice (by force if necessary – Rom. 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17) by punishing evil and rewarding good. Here is the rub: Zahnd says we are to model Jesus and he would respond peacefully to the above scenario but the government (our elected officials) has transferred to us (citizens) the responsibility to defend ourselves and our family, with force, in that same scenario. I don’t believe there is a contradiction here – we, as believers, have the God-given right and responsibility to uphold his justice (punishing evil/rewarding good) which was entrusted to the government and then to us through legislation. To insinuate that it would be sin for a person to defend himself and his family in a home invasion scenario has no biblical basis.

With the groundwork laid for this dual perspective (we are both Jesus and Pilate) it is necessary to consider how this applies to us as a nation within the world. I do not think it is a jump to see our role in the world as a promoter of justice. In our fallen world, it is necessary for someone to stand up against evil. While Zahnd, in my estimation, has muddied the waters concerning Hitler it was imperative for someone to stand up against the madness. I agree that Christians in Germany should have taken a stand (though it has been documented that many tried through peaceful and less than peaceful means and were executed – Bonhoeffer for example) but it is inconceivable to dismiss the Allied response as unbiblical.

Zahnd offered the possibility that a German Christian could kill American, British, French and Russian Christians fighting on behalf of his country and stated, “This is the problem with Constantinian Christianity and Just War theory.” Here is the problem: the German Christian was wrong. He, first and foremost, had a duty to obey God rather than his government when his government told him to do something directly against God’s commands (the Third Reich was murdering innocent people by the millions). He should have objected to this atrocity.

Zahnd would have us believe that “Constantinian Christianity and Just War theory” requires Christians to wholly submit to the government regardless of what the government requires. We have biblical support (the disciples in Acts 5:29) that this does not have to be the case and, in fact, should not be the case. We submit to our government until the government requires from us what we cannot do as citizens of the God’s kingdom. Our ultimate allegiance is to King Jesus but we must never forget he requires that we submit to the government he has established over us. This is, in fact, exactly what he did (1 Peter 3:18).

In every war, there is a side that is right and a side that is wrong. There is a side whose basis for being in the war is biblical (preserving justice) and one whose is not biblical. Even if both sides believe they are right and God is on their side, we know that this is impossible. In a fallen world, sorting this out becomes problematic but it remains true. If no one stands for justice in the world we risk millions upon millions of people being murdered (think Somolia, Rwanda, Iraq, South Vietnam, South Korea, etc.). Edmund Burke was right when he said, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” Sounds similar to Proverbs 31:9, “Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Lasting peace will only be present when Jesus returns to set up his kingdom.

Finally, my greatest concern with Zahnd’s thesis concerning war/peace is that the Scriptures are explicitly clear that true lasting peace will only be present on this earth when Jesus sets up his earthly kingdom (Revelation 21-22). Now, you may be tempted to think that this is merely the fulfillment of Jesus’ “peace campaign” which began during his earthly ministry but to do this you must overlook Revelation 20. What is clear in this chapter is the lasting peace promised is made possible only through Jesus exercising justice against Satan, his demons and all who have rejected him. It is impossible to read this along with Philippians 2:9-11 (“every knee will bow” – if not willingly, they will be forced to bow before King Jesus) and see the “peaceful” Jesus put forth by Zahnd. Lasting peace will come (for which I am thankful) but it will not be peaceful for those opposed to Jesus. In perfect justice and righteousness they will be cast into Hell for all eternity. After all, John’s vision of the Son of Man (Jesus) in Revelation 1:16 with a tongue like a “sharp two-edged sword” harks back to Jesus’ own words in Matthew 10:34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” The sword of God’s judgment will prevail upon evil and bring true and lasting peace. Jesus wields that sword.

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