Sprinkle’s ‘Fight’ — Conquest & Monarchy

{This is the fifth post in a review of Preston Sprinkle’s book Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence. Previous posts here: 1, 2, 3, and 4}

Fight.SprinkleIn chapters 4 and 5 Sprinkle covers the Israelite conquest of Canaan (“Kill Everything that Breathes”) and the rest of the OT (i.e. Judges-Malachi; “Swords Into Plowshares”). For the sake of brevity I’ll limit my interaction to three summary statements contained in these two chapters.

Concerning the relevance of Joshua’s conquest Sprinkle states:

. . . nowhere in Scripture, Old or New Testament, is Joshua’s conquest prescribed for future generations. It’s only a description of what happened. There is nothing in the Bible that appeals to the conquest as justification to wage war or engage in violence. Nothing. The conquest, like the flood and the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, was a one-time, non-repeatable event whereby God judged a particularly wicked people. (91)

The Conquest was indeed a unique event that is “non-repeatable” for the Church. Unlike the Israelites, today’s Christian hasn’t been commanded to eradicate people groups or seize territory. Granting that point, however, still leaves us with two related questions: (1) Does God continue to exercise judgment in human history through human instruments? (2) If yes, may a Christian ever be that instrument?

Turning his attention to the period of judges and kings, Sprinkle detects a national “digression into a warfare state.” As messy as Judges is, however, it’s not until 1 Samuel 8 that “Israel’s descent into secular militarism hits rock bottom.” But support for Sprinkle’s interpretation of this period can only come by a very selective reading of certain passages. For example, he sees Israel’s demand for a king as a demand for military might:

As we saw earlier, merely having a king isn’t the issue. Kingship was sanctioned by God. The issue, according to Deuteronomy 17 and here in 1 Samuel 8, is militarism: they want a military leader who will flex his muscles on the battlefield. Such misplaced trust is tantamount to idolatry, which triggers God’s wrath–wrath toward Israel’s thirst for military might. (100)

The claim that militarism is the issue in 1Samuel 8 just isn’t supported by the text. The contextual evidence makes it clear that the issue is who Israel would trust to rule (i.e. judge) them in Samuel’s absence.[1]  To be sure, a king would also be a military leader. But suggesting that Israel was only after a military leader is a stretch. 1 Samuel 8 isn’t the support he assumes it to be and this is characteristic of several other passages he would leverage for his view.

Finally, Sprinkle points to the pacifist strand in the prophets:

The prophets certainly don’t answer all of our questions about war and violence . . . For now it’s important to see that the prophets proclaim a message that in general moves away from violence and toward peace. And this is how the Old Testament ends. Longing for peace. This longing creates the seam that stitches together the seemingly contradictory portraits of violence in the Old Testament and nonviolence in the New. (113)

But this longing for peace didn’t begin with the prophets. It was the ideal even in times of violence and war (Deut 12:10; Josh 11:23; 2Sam 7:1, 11; 1Ki 5:4). The flip side of the prophets’ message is that, regrettably, war will always have a place in this world until the true King wages that one last battle that will end all war. Until then, is it possible (and even permissible) for the Christian take violent action even though he desires peace?

[1] That a ruler/judge, not a military commander, is the overall interest is shown by: (i) the repetition of the word judge (5x) (ii) the occasion — the people were facing a succession crisis when Samuel’s corrupt sons were set up as judges (iii) the elders’ request was “Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” (iv) the stated consequences for choosing a king cover a variety of societal issues–military inscription, taxes, servitude, family intrusion, property rights.

Sprinkle’s ‘Fight’…and ours? (pt 1)

Fight.SprinkleNot too long ago I was having a back-and-forth with a friend on a biblical stance concerning (non-)violence. Whether through that discussion or some other he made mention of Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence by Preston Sprinkle. I got my hands on a copy and found the book to be a very readable defense of what would typically be called Christian pacifism (Sprinkle himself doesn’t prefer the term for his position).

Working Sprinkle’s arguments into our discussion was good but it was becoming a little labor intensive. In the hope of killing two birds with one stone I thought I’d take the seeds of that growing exchange and use it as fodder for the blog. So for the next several weeks I plan to offer a series of posts in response to the book.

Ultimately, I disagree with Sprinkle’s final analysis. That’s unfortunate since I think we agree far more than we disagree. But more on that later. For now I’ll use this introductory post to present an overview of the book in Sprinkle’s own words.

The book’s purpose & modus operandi–establish a Christian position on violence by starting with Scripture:

I’m writing this book to help contribute to the ongoing discussion of how Christians should think about warfare, violence, and their close cousin, nationalism . . . But in order to address these issues from a Christian perspective, we need to dig into Scripture to see what God does say about them. So often in heated debates, the Bible is rarely consulted. Or if it is, it’s done haphazardly or with blatant bias. Oftentimes we start with a view we are convinced is right; then we go to Scripture to find verses to support it . . . But we should at least work hard at laying aside our preconceived beliefs about warfare and violence and invite God to critique our view in light of His precious Word. [23]

Sprinkle’s thesis–Christians should not use violence:

I believe that the Bible advocates nonviolence. I do not believe that Jesus wants Christians to use violence. And if I can be so blunt: I think that a large portion of the American evangelical church has been seduced, whether knowingly or not, by nationalistic militarism. Yet our inspired Word of God aggressively critiques this very thing, as we will see. [23-24]

His definition of violence:

I will use the term violence to refer to: a physical act that is intended to destroy (i.e. injure) a victim by means that overpower the victim’s consent. [32]

Sprinkle’s goals for the book–rethink violence, snuff out militarism, & fight evil without violence:

First, I want everyone who reads this book to rethink what the Bible—and only the Bible—says about warfare and violence . . . Second, I hope that this book will help snuff out the militaristic spirit that has crept into the American church over the last few decades. Third, I pray that this book will help evangelical Christians to fight. Fight against evil. Fight against the schemes of the Devil. Fight against sin. Fight against injustice . . . But in light of what the Bible teaches, I pray that citizens of God’s kingdom would emulate their King and fight without using violence. [35]

I’ll close this intro by observing that Sprinkle develops his thesis by following a redemptive-historical approach to the texts. Consequently, readers will be disappointmented if they come to the book for commentary on a catalog of “violent” verses. Sprinkle is more concerned with seeing how violence fits in the Bible’s overall storyline as it moves from Creation to Christ to New Creation. Every systematic approach to Scripture has its strengths and weaknesses but Sprinkle’s choice served the discussion far better than mere proof texting.

So that’s the book in a nutshell (mostly in the author’s own words). In the next post we’ll take a look at how Sprinkle assesses violence in the Genesis narratives.

%d bloggers like this: