I came to this book with certain expectations. I’ve watched the debates between the Right (conservatism) and the Left (or Liberalism or Progressivism) for some time, and I’ve noticed a pattern. The Right tends to lean on arguments about positions using logic and evidence. The Left tends to resort pretty quickly to emotion-based arguments, and typically employs Straw-men and ad hominem. Please notice that I italicized tends. There are exceptions to this. There are conservative writers and speakers and pundits and radio talk-show hosts who accuse President Obama of being a closet communist or Muslim, and they hint or outright state that he purposefully wants to destroy America. I don’t agree with them, but even if I did, that’s not how you persuade people to give you a hearing. And there are people on the Left who try to present their case using logic and evidence, but not too often. Most of the time, they don’t take very long before they accuse those on the Right of having bad character: “The only reason you don’t like President Obama is because you’re a racist!” “The only reason you don’t like entitlements like Food Stamps is because you don’t care about the poor!” “The only reason you favor military intervention is because you’re bloodthirsty and hate people who don’t look like you!” Or they trot out a Straw-man: “If you believe we should use the military, then you must believe we have to invade every country that disagrees with us or doesn’t like us!”
That said, I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. With just a few exceptions, Dr. Preston Sprinkle refrains from this. For the most part, he does a fine job of presenting his case with biblical exegesis, and he usually makes an attempt to present the counter-arguments fairly. I don’t agree with his interpretations, but I can’t fault his methods for the most part.
I can’t say the same about the author of the forward. In less than two pages, Shane Claiborne manages to fulfill just about every single stereotype I expected of someone on the Left. In the second paragraph, he says “There is a growing movement in the world of folks who want a Christianity that looks like Jesus again.” Later on, praising Sprinkle, Claiborne says of him “He believes Jesus meant the stuff he said.” And here’s my favorite quote: “We can fight evil without being evil.” In other words, if we aren’t pacifists, then we don’t follow a “Christianity that looks like Jesus,” and apparently we don’t believe “Jesus meant the stuff he said.”
Now, I realize that this is a forward, not the book itself. I really wonder how much input and say does an author of a book have re: the forward. Presumably Sprinkle asked Claiborne to do it. Does he (Sprinkle) believe that Christians who aren’t pacifists are being willfully disobedient to Christ? Did he read the forward and qc it at all?
You see, as I’ve noted at the outset of this blog, I don’t even judge my own heart, much less anyone else’s. I try not to judge anyone else’s motives. I look at what someone is teaching or preaching, then compare that with my best interpretation of Scripture. If I think someone’s wrong in their interpretation, then I call them on it. You’ll notice, however, that I don’t spend a lot of time mentioning names or calling out people by name. I list Tony Campolo, and Ron Sider as examples of people with whom I disagree, but don’t question their commitment to the Lord or to “the least of these.” I give them the benefit of the doubt and conjecture that they’re confused and have maybe let their political leanings color their interpretation. But I don’t impugn their motives by saying stuff like “Well, I guess Claiborne doesn’t think that Paul meant what he said in Romans chapter 13,” or “I guess he’s claiming to be more godly than David.”
I’m sure that Claiborne and others would respond with “Of course I think that Paul meant what he said in Romans 13, and I don’t think I’m more godly than David. I just interpret those passages differently than you do.” Well, that’s my response to Claiborne and others who publicly insult those who disagree with them in applying the Bible to current political topics: “Of course I think that Jesus meant what he said in the Sermon on the Mount and elsewhere in the Gospels. Of course I don’t think that ancient Israel was a model for America in deciding foreign policy. I’ve made it clear here and on my TAWG Blog that I don’t think that the weapons with which the church is supposed to fight are the weapons of the world, such as bullets or bombs, or even ballots. We don’t advance the Message of Jesus with the sword.”
So anyway, I’ll admit I felt a bit smug as I started reading the book, since the writer of the forward starts off by insulting Christians who aren’t pacifists. From the tone, it’s pretty obvious that he believes that Evangelicals who aren’t pacifists are somehow caught up in ultra-nationalism and a militaristic jingoism which shoots first and asks questions later. But then I started reading, expecting this same tone and attitude from Sprinkle, and I was pleasantly surprised.
For the most part, Sprinkle doesn’t come across this way. It’s pretty obvious that he’s dialogued quite a bit with fellow believers who disagree with him. He claims to have a lot of friends who aren’t pacifists, and I believe him. We’ll start wrestling with his interpretation of the Old Testament in the next posting.