April 25, 2019

That Silly Question and The “Truth War”

print-warrio.jpgJohn Macarthur has a new book called “The Truth War.” This article is not a review or a critique of that book. I haven’t read any more than a brief summary chapter published at “Pulpit” blog. In fact, I’m not quite sure why I mentioned the book at all. Probably to attract readers who will write annoyed comments.

Anyway.

After seeing the title of the book, I got to thinking about the usefulness of the “war” metaphor in Christianity. We’re always involved in a “war” of some kind: the culture war, the war for the Gospel, the war for the minds of our kids, the war to protect the unborn and now the “Truth” war, which seems to be mainly about clearing evangelicalism of the emerging church.

Actually, I raised the question at the BHT of whether what Jesus was seeking to create could be called a “Truth War?” I won’t quote the response, but you can trust me that the seriousness of the question was fundamentally questioned, and later on, the issue of the silliness of “What Would Jesus Do?” inevitably made an appearance.

It’s always struck me as odd that the question “What would Jesus do?” is deemed something between ridiculous and dangerous. Before the acronym and the bracelet, any curious person could have asked the WWJD question in a typical discussion or Bible study environment without being deemed errant or liberal. Today, the question has the connotation of not taking the Bible seriously, but of reducing religion to whatever silly liberal ideas a person has that are unconnected to Jesus at all.

It seems to me that the Bible takes us, inevitably, to a place where there is a cogent answer to “What would Jesus do?” Not because of an exhaustive or unquestionable collection of examples, but because Jesus incarnates God in such a way that reason can comprehend, anticipate and reasonably collate revelation into probable answers to the question. I do not believe such conclusions are any more likely to be biased than any other form of Biblical reasoning.

For example, I was recently discussing the question of recreational marijuana use with a student friend. He recounted a conversation with another Christian mentor whose first response was that marijuana use was wrong because it was against the law. This is true, but it could be not true with the single stroke of a legislator’s pen. While this is a convenient answer, it doesn’t go deep enough for most thoughtful Christians.

Can we separate the moderate consumption of alcohol from the moderate recreational use of marijuana? An important part of this answer for me is “What would Jesus do?” It is true that I could apply a number of Biblical and philosophical principles to the issue, but the question “Would Jesus use marijuana recreationally?” brings me to a definitive answer.

Does it glorify God? Is this the created use? Is this a legitimate creative use? Does it do harm? Does it encourage sin in other areas? Does it promote the cause of Christ in those who observe the behavior? Is my uncertainty sufficient to violate my conscience? Will I be ashamed of this activity in the light of judgement? All these questions pertain to a proper answer, but when the truth is incarnated in Jesus, and when what we know about Jesus is applied consistently, the answer is clear: Jesus would not recreationally use a drug and would not affirm or encourage others to do so.

Those who criticize “What would Jesus do?” generally fear that the use of this kind of question would result in a Jesus who, for example, blesses homosexual unions. Of course, there is no Biblical evidence that God would do anything other than condemn homosex as unnatural, and there is, similarly, no evidence that homosexual unions are anything other than a distortion of the essential male-female nature of marriage.

Reasoning that Jesus accepting those the Pharisees deemed as moral outsiders or forgiving those who were genuinely repentant sexual sinners means he would accept and bless homosexual marriage is sophistry. It is the use of Jesus as a symbol and goes far beyond any reasonable evidence in scripture that could pertain to Jesus at all.

“What would Jesus say about the war in Iraq?” is, however, the kind of question that demonstrates the limitations of WWJD. Jesus lived in a culture that accepted notions of just war. Within his own culture, Jesus called his followers to specific actions of pacifism and peace-making. But there is not sufficient evidence to say that Jesus would not have defended innocents, or that Jesus would have told his followers they could not be soldiers or participate in vocations where force might be used.

In some ways, it is important that the question be ambiguous, because other Biblical texts might leave us with too much certainty. Texts justifying way against generic “enemies” can be misused. Texts calling for pacifism may be misapplied, such as in refusing to defend innocents or condemning those in callings that bear the sword. The idea that “I cannot imagine that Jesus would ever fire a gun at an Iraqi” may be true…but the Biblical material leaves me at the place of believing there are instances one may do things we cannot conceive of Jesus doing.

So I return to the place I began: Is the movement Jesus was creating accurately expressed as a “Truth war?”

1) There are many instances of war/military language in the New Testament, and these can’t be discounted. For example, Paul often references military imagery to speak about spiritual warfare or even his own ministry.

2) Jesus, however, seems to be purposely teaching his disciples to forsake the Zealot model of a holy war, and many of his teachings on pacifism and peaceful response seem to be pointedly critical of the idea that “we are in a war for our culture” and other rhetorical justifications of war imagery.

3) The belligerence of the disciples never earns the commendation of Jesus, even when it is well motivated, so whatever “war” imagery is meant to move us toward, it isn’t towards Peter with a sword.

4) There seems to be little convincing evidence that Jesus was equipping the disciples to become involved in theological/culture along the lines of the some versions of the “truth” war. The Gospel is a proclamation of the Lordship of a God whose victory is not dependent on a battle. We announce the victory of Christ, and do “battle” as proclaimers and witnesses to the triumphant reality of the Kingdom of Jesus. The “Truth” is triumphant, and the wars that involve the truth are with vanquished enemies. This is why the church is a community of the truth in Jesus, and not a warrior congregation sent to defeat enemies, but to reconcile all.

While there was an inevitable debate and dialog within Judaism and there would be debate within the early church, I do not believe Jesus was training the disciples to be in a “wartime” mindset as much as a Kingdom mindset. (With all due respect to Dr. Piper, the wartime mindset cannot be justified as a more important or Biblically dominant image than a Kingdom mindset. WITHIN the Kingdom metaphor- “storming the gates of hell” for example- the wartime metaphor can be properly used without turning Christianity into Christendom or a crusade.)

5) One couldn’t read the Book of Revelation without war imagery. But there is an important difference to be noted: while the church is pictured as an army in Revelation 7 (the 144,000 are a numerical symbol for the church and they are arranged for battle- the church “militant) the reality of the church on earth is almost always a witness by suffering. The “war” is not one waged by the believer as much as a mindset of the “big picture” of cosmic conflict where Christ is triumphant. The war is a reality, but the resulting action of the believer isn’t “warlike.” This is very important.

A “Truth War” has some place in Christianity, but the metaphor has many weaknesses, particularly in risking a misunderstanding of the victory of Christ and an overemphasis on the “tactics” of war. If Christ is the ultimate warrior in the “Truth War,” we see a very different approach to “battle” by Jesus than we do in most contemporary polemicists.

Comments

  1. I have never liked the war metaphor until I read this from John Eldredge:

    “The story of your life is the story of the journey of your heart through a dangerous and beautiful world. It’s the story of the long and sustained assault on your heart by the Enemy who knows who you could be … and fears you. But it’s also the story of the long and mysterious pursuit of your heart by the God who knows you truly and loves you deeply.”

  2. Hey I’m a newbie to the site…so be gentle!

    I’m not real keen on the war metaphor, either; especially when it is used to justify the way some Christians go after others (Christians or not) who don’t agree with them on some (obscure) point of doctrine. That said, is there something to the use of the metaphor when dealing with the “battle” between the church and the (unseen) principalities and powers? Consider Matt 16:13-18 or Ephesians 6:13ff, just to name two Scripture passages.

  3. when it comes right down to it, wwjd is often used to endorse one person’s or group’s agenda. bottom line: jesus cannot be used by any one. he challenges all agendas, personal and national. war-mongers nor passivists can claim him as their spokesperson.

  4. Phil Walker says

    The limitation of WWJD? I’ve always struggled with is not so much conceiving of things I ought to do that Jesus never did, but rather a constant realisation that Jesus did things I never can. Like heal the sick and raise the dead.

  5. I like to ask the question:

    “Well? What WOULD Jesus do?”

    I find that helps to move it out of the realm of cliche, and re-establish it as a serious question. Hope this helps someone else.