Published by Herald Press on February 4, 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
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Is nonviolence irresponsible? Is peacemaking naïve? From one of the most respected and prophetic voices in Christianity today comes Speak Your Peace. Ronald J. Sider, author of the influential Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, plumbs Scripture, building a persuasive case that Jesus meant what he said when he commanded us to love our enemies. With candor and logic, Sider takes on enduring questions about violence and nonviolence, showing how the contemporary church in a warring world has largely set aside Jesus’ call to love our enemies and traded its birthright in Christ for a stew of nationalism and militarism. But ignoring what Jesus said about killing is a huge theological mistake. Returning us to the inescapable call of the Son of God, Sider reminds the church of its true vocation in a world of hatred and war.
A few years ago, Ron Sider wrote a book called If Jesus is Lord, which was a thorough and comprehensive examination of the doctrine of nonviolence. The next year, Sider worked that academic book into a more accessible form and called it Speak Your Peace: What the Bible Says About Loving Our Enemies. With short, poignant chapters followed by a series of incisive discussion questions, Ron Sider challenges readers to take seriously the command of Jesus to love our enemies.
The first part of the book sets up the case for Christian nonviolence. He takes us through the cultural and setting into which Jesus commanded his followers to love their enemies. He explains how living in the dawning Kingdom of God affects how Jesus-followers should live. And he surveys the early church and their views on nonviolence in the face of persecution.
The second part of the book addresses problems, questions, and contraindications. What about the violence in the Old Testament? Didn’t Jesus tell his disciples to carry a sword? Doesn’t the Bible speak highly of some military leaders? Isn’t pacifism really a failure to love one’s neighbor if you’re not willing to kill for them? Isn’t it naïve? Should we really not have fought in WWII?
The third part of the book addresses issues with just war theory and imagines a world where most Christians became pacifists. And it’s this latter chapters that’s of utmost importance. As a pacifist, I’ve been told that my convictions are only workable because of people who aren’t pacifist. In other words, if every Christian was like me, evil would take over. This is the question Sider seeks to answer and the answer he gives is…probably unsatisfying to most. Because his answer is “Yes, it might.” It takes a bold person to openly say that millions of Christians might be killed as a result of loving their enemies, but what if he’s right? What if it’s truly what Jesus has called us to do? In the end, I wish Sider had given us more here (he does a bit better in his longer book If Jesus is Lord). It’s a good question and his answer, though honest, is rather anemic.
The book concludes with a discussion of violence and the atonement and an exploration of violence in church history. They’re sort of addendums to the main thesis of the book, but not unimportant as Sider is able to trace the church’s move from nonviolence to crusaders and modern emphasis on violence with the violent imagery of the atonement.
Overall, between the two, I would rather read If Jesus is Lord. Sider addresses the issues more robustly and thoroughly. But if you’re just being introduced to the subject, Speak Your Peace is a great introduction.