Christian Humanist Profiles 22: Reading Backwards

the-vision-after-the-sermon-jacob-wrestling-with-the-angel-1888.jpg!BlogTo be saved means to be in a story where the characters need saving.  That ground-floor reality motivated a generation of theologians and Bible scholars to think of Christianity in terms of the story it projects onto the world and discloses within the world, treating historical context as something within which Bible happens and something that Bible makes happen.  In his recent book Reading Backwards, Richard Hays, Dean of Duke Divinity School, explores the ways that the four canonical gospels re-cast the narratives and oracles and songs of the Old Testament in light of the Jesus movement, both finding meaning for Jesus in those texts and finding meaning in those texts because Jesus happens.

16 thoughts on “Christian Humanist Profiles 22: Reading Backwards

  1. Hey
    Christian Humanists!
    I
    am a long time listener and deeply appreciative of the show.  When
    I saw that Nathan was interviewing Richard Hays I was extremely
    excited, and the interview did not disappoint. So thank you, it was a
    real gift.  

    I
    am a huge fan of the kind of exegesis of which Dr. Hays is a prime
    representative.  (My handle for it has been “post-liberal”;
    I don’t know if he would self-identify as such, but his favorable
    citations of Hans Frei would make me think he’s at least got
    sympathies with that genealogical line.)

    But,
    I have had a lingering question about how exactly a “conversion
    of the imagination” actually takes place, especially among those
    whose formative years were not
    characterized by participation in a tradition that had a high view of
    scripture?

    I
    should begin by saying that I assume that such a conversion would be
    the work of God.  I am more interested in the means through
    which Dr. Hays or anyone of a post-liberal persuasion would see this
    conversion working itself out in practice.

    For
    instance, I come from a confessional Lutheran tradition (Lutheran
    Church – Missouri Synod [LCMS]), whose self-identity is at least
    partially articulated over-against the more “liberal”
    American Lutheran denominations that eventually developed into the
    ELCA.  

    A
    significant part of the self-identity of the LCMS is holding a “high”
    view of scripture.  By “high” view, I mean that God is
    the author of the entire canon, and he used various human writers to
    write the various books while maintaining a coherence throughout,
    relatively free of internal tension.  In its own words, most in
    the tradition would come to identify scripture as inerrant and
    infallible.  The rhetoric used to support this view would find a
    direct correlation between a person’s ability to respond in the
    affirmative to questions like “Was Jonah literally swallowed
    by a big fish?” to that person’s level of trust in God.

  2. I
    held this view in a rather naive and straight-forward way until I
    realized that some of the questions that “liberals” ask are
    the same ones that non-Christians ask.  

    So
    I discovered that constructing an identity against a group, the
    members of which are asking the same questions that many
    non-Christians ask is both uncharitable to liberal Christians and
    counter-productive in finding a Christian posture that is capable of
    actually addressing “the world” or “non-Christians”
    with an intelligible “reason for the hope that is in me.”

    Faced
    with the challenge of remaining faithful to the Christian community
    which formed my identity while simultaneously trying to find a
    charitable way of speaking with liberal Christians and an empathetic
    way of speaking with non-Christians, the “post-liberal”
    writings of George Lindbeck appeared to me like a kind of lifeboat.

    I
    was drawn to the precision with which he described my own formation
    as the product of a particular language given to me by my church, and
    the potential he saw in a linguistic approach to ecumenism as a
    constructive way forward in working toward a more unified ecclesial
    witness (a la John 17).

    I
    say that it was like a lifeboat because “post-liberalism”
    seemed to clearly understand the challenges that liberalism posed,
    yet found a way to maintain fidelity to scripture as we have received
    it in the canon.  It seemed to truly relieve the tension I was
    feeling. 

    However,
    the more I read, the more the post-liberal response simply sounded
    like, “Liberals just aren’t asking the interesting questions.”
     That may be a bit of an over-simplification, but that seems to
    be a strong rhetorical piece of the way the folks at Duke do it.

    But
    as soon as I say that, I have to admit that there is a strong
    sensitivity against supercessionist readings within post-liberalism
    and at least a willingness to hear the challenges of feminist,
    liberationist, and post-colonial readings.  And all of these
    critical readings have largely come as the result of traditions that
    have been willing to “relax” what others would call a
    “high” view of scripture.

    So
    while post-liberalism does push back against some of the more
    critical aspect of the liberal exegetical tradition, it seems to kind
    of pick and choose, especially seeing as many self-identified
    “post-liberals” are products of mainline denominations that
    have already been significantly shaped by liberal trends.  In
    this way, as a movement, it doesn’t make sense without liberalism

  3. All
    of that is to say that for
    me,
    as one who began with a “high” view of scripture, the
    post-liberal movement has truly been a gift in allowing me to ask
    better questions both from within my own tradition and in engaging
    other Christian traditions.  

    However,
    I must confess that while it can be pretty darn satisfying
    intellectually, it kind of feels like cheating.  I feel I can go
    out and explore all sorts of ideas, but when I am truly stumped,
    there is always the post-liberal lifeboat waiting for me.

    So,
    as one who has benefitted greatly from the post-liberal tradition, I
    am wondering what resources it actually holds out for people who
    don’t already have a general sense of trust in the scriptural
    tradition.  For me, a “conversion of my imagination”
    is welcome because it means that I can sit at a table with liberals
    and have what seems like an intellectually defensible position while
    still affirming everything I did when I held a more “naive”
    view of scripture.  

    In
    other words, I fear that post-liberalism has enabled me to be more
    comfortable among various Christian groups while less able to
    actually empathize with and bear witness to non-Christians.

    Because
    if people in the world are asking the critical questions about
    genealogies, miracles, and redaction criticism, is the most loving
    response to just ask them to ask more interesting questions?

    Again,
    I am deeply sympathetic to the response that would say that to engage
    on questions of historical accuracy gives away too much ground from
    the get-go.  But if someone is genuinely inquiring, and the
    seeming irreconcilability of some of those problems is troubling to
    them, and leads them to distrust the text, what resources can a
    post-liberal exegesis hold out to demonstrate the text’s
    trustworthiness?

  4. My
    initial impulse is to say that when a Christian trusts a text enough
    to read it narratively while also seeing it as divinely revelatory,
    and someone inquires as to how they can believe such a thing, the
    onus for trustworthiness shifts from the text to the reader, or more
    precisely, the reading community.  

    In
    this case, the best reason I can come up with why a non-Christian
    should trust the text is that they should trust the church.

    However,
    my intuition tells me is that if given the choice between inviting
    folks to put their trust in either scripture or the church, I don’t
    know that I wouldn’t just pick the scriptures.  The church might
    have more apologies to make.

    Again,
    I trust that God is at work in scripture and in the church.  This
    is a classic question of authority, and I am wondering if the
    Christian Humanist community has some insight about how to put the
    post-liberal pieces together.

    I
    hope this is clear.  Please ask questions if it’s not. 

    I
    am really not picking any sort of fight, I am just struck sometimes
    that maybe the “post-liberal” niche I’ve found myself in is
    doing some harm as well as good.  Just wondering if anyone out
    there can dig it.  I trust you guys.

    If
    you can’t tell, this response might’ve been a more appropriate email,
    but I am eager to hear how y’all would respond, so I figured I’d put
    it out in the open.

    Peace,
    Merry Christmas, and 

    Thank
    you so much for all you guys do. I can confidently say that my life
    has been seriously enriched through your work.

    In
    Christ, 
    Michael

  5. michaeldobler I’m going to respond to each part of your comments in turn so that I don’t lose the thread too badly.

    I think the trick here for me, and this will come across when my interview with Walter Brueggemann goes live in 2015, is that to say that God is the ultimate author of the Bible (which I do confess) does not lead necessarily to the second part of your claim, that the work should be free of tension.  If we’re talking about the same God who sends Abraham to a land he hasn’t seen, sets apart a band of slaves to be a royal priesthood, tells Samuel that Israel’s desire for a king is a rejection of divine rule and tells David that his own bloodline is divinely ordained, and offers not one but four canonical narratives of Jesus, then for me it’s more of a stretch to posit that such a deity would offer a holy book free of tension or even contradiction than it would be to anticipate that such a deity would offer a holy book that’s just as challenging as is the existential choices involved in remaining faithful to that deity.

    Now I shouldn’t pretend that my understanding of such a deity comes from other, more central sources than the Bible itself.  I’m inclined to think about the relationships among faith, Scripture, interpretation, proclamation, and spiritual transformation as a network of dialectics, in which God’s influence pulls this direction and that at the same time, inviting those who wish to live a life of truth into a world (a new creation, if you’d prefer the Biblical language) in which already and not-yet are both true and in which the life of meditating on the Scriptures does not settle but always disrupts the ways that we think we know God.

    Alright.  I’m going to go to the next part of your comment now.

  6. michaeldobler Certainly I’ll agree that post-liberalism arises in a particular moment and that, for instance, thirteenth-century Paris wouldn’t have produced such an intellectual movement.  I suppose such a reality doesn’t bother me too much because my own preaching, teaching, and spiritual life more broadly also emerge out of a particular historical moment, as did Luther’s and Augustine’s and Tertullian’s before mine.  Critters of history we are, and folks who forget that tend not to avail themselves of historical resources nearly as readily as folks who hold on loosely to our own pet questions.

    Now the question of liberation and feminist readings is an interesting one precisely because of our own moment.  I think one of the real strengths of postliberal theology is that it can and does acknowledge the good and faith-building questions that Gustavo Gutierrez and Elizabeth Johnson and Jack Caputo and James Cone pose without deciding, before the conversation starts, that Julian of Norwich and John Calvin and Giambattista Vico will not have anything useful to say in response.  I’m a great lover of books, and what a postliberal approach allows me to do is to use some imagination reading the sources that (some) liberal approaches rule out of court before the discourse begins, reading them at different angles and learning their best stuff without committing myself to their worst stuff.  (I think that Radical Orthodoxy shares this strength, which is why I think of both Richard Hays and John Milbank as central influences.)  The danger there, of course, is a sort of mindless eclecticism, but keeping mindful is precisely one of my own chief goals in theology, so I’d like to think I can steer clear of that.

    With regards to the genealogy of postliberalism at Yale and Duke and mainline Protestantism more generally, I do take heart at the fact that two of my favorite heirs of the tradition, Scot McKnight and Phil Kenneson, tend to aim their material more at the broad evangelical movement in twenty-first-century Christianity.  My sense is that, while the roots of the movement are East-Coast roots, some of the most interesting work in the last ten years or so has moved to the midwest.

  7. michaeldobler I think your instincts are right that post-liberalism holds as its central project conversations between Christians rather than the conversion of not-yet-Christians.  George Lindbeck’s seminal text “The Nature of Doctrine” sets itself forth as a proposal for ecumenical dialogue.

    And as I said in the previous comment, that’s why I’m especially interested in Radical Orthodoxy, which holds as its own project a strong intellectual engagement with postmodern thought in the academy and Western society more generally.  (And since most of the globe, at this point, is in some dialogue with what I’d call “the West,” largely because of our recent history of Spanish and English and French and Dutch colonial expansion, it’s good medicine in “non-Western” places as well.)  So in my own theological readings, postliberalism helps me to navigate conversations with liberal and with evangelical/fundamentalist co-religionists, while Radical Orthodoxy gives me a vocabulary, both firmly rooted in the Christian intellectual tradition and reaching out to the intellectual movements that position themselves as post-Christian and anti-Christian, for engaging with ideas that don’t self-identify as Christian ideas.

    (I should go ahead and disclose at this point that there’s also an interview with John Milbank, one of the leading voices in Radical Orthodoxy, coming out in early 2015.)

    Historical accuracy, I’ll admit, hasn’t been a strong concern of mine for some time, largely because any teacher of Herodotus or Polybius or Livy or the various court annals of the ancient world who has a modicum of intellectual honesty will tell you, at the outset, that our notion of history as a facsimile of sensory perception is a very late invention in the human story.  That conversion of the imagination that Hays names has to do not only with reading the Bible but with coming to terms with the ancient world more generally.  To say that a historical narrative has an agenda beyond reproducing what eyes in the moment would have seen is not to condemn the narrative, unless the word “history” is itself a condemnation.

  8. michaeldobler Thank you for the comments, Michael, and I hope my responses have been helpful.

    I tell my own students who go out into the state universities for graduate school that, among the educated, dogma is the best sort of apologetics.  In other words, defenses of the faith that attempt to frame the rationality of confession in non-confessional terms often fall flat among those who really know their stuff.  Far more promising, though it’s also a bit more risky, is to invite folks to live in the world of Christian confession and see what they think. 

    For that reason I’m less inclined to separate Scripture from Church and confession from ethics.  It’s all part of a network that stands in relationship with the world but never identical with the world, and the hypocrisies and failures that we all contribute are part of that picture.

    Ultimately, my wager is that, even with me there, the world of confession is better than other things the world has to offer.  It’s not a knock-down, street-corner-preaching sort of approach, but it’s what I’ve got.

  9. ngilmour michaeldobler
    Nathan, thank you so much for your thoughtful responses, especially in accommodating my somewhat strange comment staggering.   

    And I hope that this discussion is meaningful/useful to the broader Christian humanist community, but if for the sake of simplicity it makes sense to move this conversation to email, I’m cool with that.  Just let me know what your vocation of moderator calls for.

    I kind of knew, given your previously stated preference for Brueggeman that the “free of tension” line would be the bait.  The struggle I have with exegesis that highlights the multiplicity of voices within the canon is that it is difficult for me to see what in the end keeps the dialectical tension of these voices from resolving itself for certain voices and against others (with my list of “pros” and “cons” being more informed by personal preference than by God’s witness through the text).

    I concede the fact that each tradition privileges a “canon within the canon” in which the lifting up and suppressing certain aspects of the scriptural witness is essentially inevitable.

    And I can meet you when you talk about the dialectics of scripture. As a Lutheran, I have been formed in such a way as to be comfortable with these dialectics, especially in speaking about God.  

    But for me, the clearest case of the difficulty of maintaining the tension of these voices without from the beginning affirming a certain coherence to the scriptural witness is the way that Christian pacifists handle the Old Testament texts that unequivocally sanction and lift up acts of “violence.”

    At this point, I should say that my introduction to “post-liberal” thought came through reading Stanley Hauerwas and his reading of John Howard Yoder.  In my understanding, some kind of Christian pacifism characterizes the work of Brueggemann, Milbank, and the Hauerwasian stream of the “post-liberal” tradition.  

    The attractiveness of the pacifist position for me is that if the tension is to be resolved it ought to find its resolution in the person of Jesus, in whom a consistent message of peace is readily discernible.

    However, I have yet to find a pacifist who can claim that the Old Testament bears  anything like such a clear witness to the message of Christian nonviolence as does a Christian pacifist reading of the New Testament.    

    So do we say that Jesus shows us how to pick the right voices from the Old Testament?  Or do you see Jesus trying to honor and lift up all these various voices?

    Like I said, I’m deeply sympathetic to the pacifist position, but I feel that I need a way to check myself from flattening out the Old Testament witness to make it fit that position.  The way that I have found works pretty well is some a priori notion of the coherence of scripture against which I fight and struggle.  

    Without that check I feel like I really could just pick the stuff I like and leave the rest, which would shut off most of the disruptive possibility you’re talking about.

    But it seems like you’ve got a different way, so I’d be eager to learn.

  10. ngilmour michaeldobler
    This is going to be a bit off-the-wall, but I’m curious for your thoughts.

    When you started taking about confession, I immediately concurred but with a different definition of confession.  

    I tend to think that the best form of apologetics is actually the confession of sin to the other.  Because more often than not, I’ve found that people have very specific reasons for not trusting the tradition, and most of the time the reasons they give have little to do with particular doctrinal elements or anything “Confessional”.

    In this regard, I have often wondered if part of the general ascent and seeming trustworthiness of “the scientific community” or “science” generally has to do with the trust-engendering practice of always being ready to admit when you were wrong.  

    I hear scientists claim this all the time, that the scientific method is the best access we have to “truth” because it’s claims are falsifiable.  I tend to think this is why people give “science” a benefit of the doubt.  Formally stating that you want to be presented with evidence that goes against the way you speak about the world seems to me a  pretty sure way of dispelling fear about alternative agendas and the possibility of manipulation or duplicity (in most cases).

    Structurally, the way that falsifiability functions in the scientific community ought to be the way that confession and repentance function in the Christian community.  This relates to the strong connection you see between confession and ethics: that if my actions don’t match my speech, I want to know!

    Another way of putting this is simply owning the distinctly Christian pejorative “hypocrite” as a dialectic of speech and action which characterizes the Christian life.

    Does the connection make sense?  

    I am thinking like this because I get kind of tired of the post-modern reading of the modernist hegemony.  I just don’t think that’s a story that a lot of people care about who don’t have a stake in a tradition they feel is threatened.

    I am curious about how you see the mechanics of trust working themselves out.

  11. ngilmour michaeldobler
    I’m not as concerned with the historical “locatedness” of the post-liberal tradition as I am with a tendency toward eclecticism, not necessarily in a mindless way (although I would be curious as to how you find confidence in making that distinction), but in a way that is not useful to people who don’t already have trust in the tradition.

    I certainly agree with you about the possibility that a post-liberal affords me as a curious Christian to explore the tradition and feel comfortable appropriating voices from our past to address contemporary questions.  That project is exhilarating for me.

    But at this point, I should confess that I am currently training to be a pastor in this Lutheran denomination, so my concern is perhaps more pastoral than anything.  

    And one of the key pastoral concerns I have is that the way I have come to understand my faith is deeply historical.  I understand and appreciate the diversity of voices within the Christian tradition and see myself as a blessed inheritor of the Christian witness.

    However, I didn’t get that from going to church, and neither do the people to whom I preach.  So whereas in every scriptural text I read, I hear and long for the various ways this text has resonated and functioned over time, most people in the pews are looking for much more chewable bits.

    I think that this is directly related to the weakness of history education in America.  I don’t think I ever learned to appreciate history until I faced up to the historical situatedness of my faith.

    As a professor, do you have a sense of this tension between your appreciation for the tradition and your task of communicating the riches in a palatable way?  Any tips?

  12. ngilmour michaeldobler
    Thanks!  Your matrixing of post-liberal/ecumenical and Radical Orthodoxy/non-Christian makes a good deal of sense.

    I kind of like Radical Orthodoxy too, mostly because they seem to get me in the way that I don’t know exactly how I have come to have as much trust in the tradition as I do.  I see it as a gift because I know that if I did not have such trust in this tradition, I wouldn’t have near enough confidence to be as critical of it as I am (if that makes sense).

    But I know that many people do not have such a trust in the tradition.  The historical-critical questions do bother them.  Either they don’t trust the scriptures because of the way it rubs against certain preconceptions they have, or they don’t trust the church because it has failed to demonstrate its trustworthiness as a mouthpiece for God.

    As a post-liberal and a Radical Orthodox sympathizer, I feel like I can become almost too comfortable in letting folks “look around” with a certain sort of detachment that I feel is in deep tension with the Gospel’s call to meet people where they are at.

    Maybe this is personal, but I have heard Hauerwas called a “sectarian fideist” enough times to know that while such isolationism is not a necessary consequence of this way of thinking, it is certainly a temptation.

    I don’t know if there is an easy way of avoiding the temptation other than simply caring about people.  But as intellectual movements, I just hope they don’t simply function simply to make Christians feel good about being Christian.  I hope the gospel is a little more unsettling than that.

  13. michaeldobler ngilmour I agree that Christianity’s practice of confessing sins should also be such a correction mechanism, but I’m perhaps going to irk you a bit here and point out the fact that in fact there is at least an atmospheric modernist hierarchy of confession, even if not a hegemony.  Even in places where Karl Popper’s notion of falsifiability governs scientific talk (many philosophers of science observe that such a one-shot test only actually functions in border cases, that something like Thomas Kuhn’s notion of warring paradigms more accurately describes the ways in which science actually functions), folks who value falsifiability, where it’s a valid criterion for judging theories, also speak freely about things that aren’t subject to falsifiability (mainly what philosophers call “ought” claims).
    When such folks start talking as if matters of possibility and will rather than actuality and inanimate motion are also subject to “falsifiability” or other such things, one gets into the realm of what Richard Weaver called “scientism,” which really is philosophically shaky ground.  My own tendency, in such moments, is not to try to make Christianity more like the bad ideology but to pose questions of the ideology itself, hoping that the process of conversation will at least expose some of the contradictions inherent, even if my interlocutors won’t (and I use the will-word intentionally here) grant the logical problems.  I’m a teacher ultimately, so I’m inclined to try to establish trust not by conceding bad ideas but by proposing better questions to ask in the face of those bad ideas.

  14. michaeldobler ngilmour Certainly not, and I’m curious to see what you think about some of Hauerwas’s statements in my interview with him earlier this year.  I did try to press the question of invitation to him, and I thought he answered well.

    I think that both postliberal theology and Radical Orthodoxy retain plenty of resources for self-critique, even as I grant that I personally don’t always live up to the standard of sin-confession that they recommend.  I also have a hunch, though I’m not near a library now to research this, that most of the folks who call Hauerwas sectarian and fideist tend to be liberal Christians, not necessarily atheists or Muslims.  My sense is that the name-calling approach to Hauerwas’s ideas has more to do with intramural squabbles among mainline Protestants than it does with how the Christian faith engages with folks of other backgrounds entirely.

    With regards to the tradition question, what makes Radical Orthodoxy so appealing to me (and to non-Christians, in conversations I’ve had) is that it grants the contingency and even particularity of Christianity while insisting that post-Christian ideologies that claim universality are themselves contingent and particular.  Once the genealogical work of demonstrating that particularity is in place, then the question becomes not which tradition is “objective,” not beholden to any “agenda” (none of them is) but which one offers a more compelling vision of reality.  That’s what I meant earlier when I said that the best apologetics is dogma.  I agree with you that confession of sins can be great stuff apologetically, but its appeal depends on a vision of reality that isn’t simple-mindedly progressive, a notion that ideas that come later have the possibility of being degenerate as well as the possibility of being superior in some evolutionary manner.  To denigrate one’s own tradition in the wrong sort of world-narrative is not appealing at all but merely fodder for supersessionist celebration, which is why I’m all for confession, but I’m inclined to confess to a fellow believer rather than to someone for whom confession holds no appeal.

  15. michaeldobler ngilmour I’d start not with my professor-work but with my preacher-work.  I’ve been the interim preacher at my church for a shade over 3 years, and I’ve gotten more and more comfortable, over those three years, with incorporating some of the historical disputes over theology into the sermons.  (I’ve been doing so in Sunday school lessons for much longer than that.)  Perhaps it’s because I’ve been teaching college freshmen for a shade over a dozen years, but I find that people are more willing to entertain new ideas than we give them credit for, so long as we approach the enterprise as a teacher and not as a social-media protester.

    The results of that long, sustained practice, first in Sunday school and then in the pulpit, have not been radical–folks still spend a whole lot more time watching Fox News than they do in church every week–but they have been observable.  Don’t underestimate the power of sustained, careful education, be that education in a classroom or in a sanctuary.

  16. michaeldobler ngilmour My own approach to the question of armed force does indeed start in the New Testament, but I maintain that a person who reads the New Testament carefully ends up encompassing the Old Testament on most questions, and the question of military force doesn’t yet seem to be an exception.

    Both John the Baptist (in Luke’s version at least) and St. Paul (in Romans) hold that there is a place for saying that armies and police forces do their jobs better or worse in some theologically rigorous manner.  In John’s brief word to the Roman soldiers, he tells them not to exploit the provincials, even as his contemporaries are condemning the same occupying pagans to unmitigated divine wrath.  And in Paul’s case, he says fairly unambiguously that the magistrate wields the sword to restrain evil in the world.
    This is why I can hold that Christians should be nonviolent but still hold Revelation to be canonical.  The narrative structure of the Apocalypse is a series of preparations-for-battle in which the wicked outnumber the faithful in every engagement, but in every battle-story in Revelation (go back and read them!), just before any fighting actually commences, some sort of messenger arrives and announces that God has won.  The allegory (though some folks object to that word) seems relatively clear: the powers that oppress the faithful will meet their doom, but that doom will not and cannot involve the faithful witnesses’ taking up arms to fight that battle themselves.  There are other historical forces at play, and Christians must not fall to the temptation of thinking that we’re responsible for destroying the evil in the world.  (As I type this I’m remembering the 2004 U.S. presidential campaign and cringing.)

    Thus the larger picture that I see in both Paul and John the Baptist: Paul doesn’t therefore tell Christians to go join the Roman army, just as John the Baptist doesn’t tell the folks who are of Israel that the best way to serve God is to go and become irregulars alongside the legions.  Both texts have a call specifically to God’s people, whether one calls those people Israel or Church (Romans does both, I would argue), and in the age of the Messiah, that role is to bear witness, not to take up arms and make the Reign of God happen by force.  Such is not to say that Joshua had the same role in God’s drama; we can talk intelligibly about that episode in the drama without saying that our vocation is identical.  So likewise with the Jerusalem kings, with the empires of Assyria and Babylon (which both get called agents of God by the prophets at various points), and even Ha-Satan in the book of Job.  Plurality means paying close attention to one’s role in the grand story, and theologically, I’m inclined to go with Hauerwas and Yoder (and the old Anabaptist van Braght before them) and say that God’s providence operates in ways that are not co-extensive with the life of the Church but that the Church has a very particular call that necessitates that we renounce military force in the pursuit of what we do.

    That’s the way I read both the Old Testament and the New on the question of taking up arms in criminally short outline, but hopefully the general contours make some sense.

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