#24 -Pacifism vs. Passivism ft. Dr. Ron Sider

 In

Non-violence, Anabaptists & Government

 

Rob invites Dr. Ron Sider into a conversation focused on peacemaking and non-violence, using Dr. Sider’s book Speak Your Peace.  MB’s have been pacifist believers, preaching a gospel message that presents Jesus on the cross as God’s self-sacrificial atonement for our sins.  God’s loving action that takes the penalty of sin…death from our account and places it onto Christ.  Then by faith, His righteousness is imputed to us. Dr. Sider helps process this as he and Rob discuss what it looks like to hold these evangelical convictions around the cross and work of Christ, and be a people of non-violence and peace.

 

“There’s always the third possibility, which is to act non-violently, to oppose evil. And in the last hundred years, especially the last fifty or so, there’s been an amazing history of successful non-violence.” – Dr. Ron Sider

Dr. Ron Sider is a Canadian-born American theologian and social activist.  He is the founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, a think-tank which seeks to develop biblical solutions to social and economic problems through incubating programs that operate at the intersection of faith and social justice.

“So it’s simply false history to say that there are only two choices to be totally passive, do nothing or to kill.  There’s always a third option of non-violent intervention.  And the historical evidence is that again and again.” – Dr. Ron Sider

Topics Covered include

  • Response to violence
  • Passives versus pacifism
  • Biblical evidence for the life of peace and non-violence
  • Defence for a just war position
  • Effectiveness of a pacifist response
  • Living in the tension

 

Show Notes

 

 

#24 -Pacifism vs. Passivism ft. Dr. Ron Sider
BCMB Pastor to Pastor Podcast

 
 
00:00 / 48:33
 
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Transcription

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Dr. Ron Sider:
Well, I think the strongest argument against a person who says that Jesus said we should never kill is that those people really don't take any responsibility for maintaining peace and justice in the world, but that they are fundamentally irresponsible. Jesus says love your enemies. And he says that includes loving Roman imperialists, carrying Roman the soldiers pack, not just one mile, which was a legal requirement but two miles. So at the center of Jesus teaching, is this unheard of command to love even enemies.

Welcome to the BCMB podcast, Pastor to Pastor. This is a podcast by the British Columbia Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches. We want to help equip and encourage pastors, churches and anyone else who wants to listen in and be more effective in their ministry. This is episode 24, Pacifism versus Passivism with Dr. Ron Sider.

Rob Thiessen:
I want to welcome all the listeners. This is Rob Thiessen. I'm the conference minister for the BCMB Churches here. Welcome to the Pastor to Pastor podcast. And although we'll date our conversation, we are having this conversation here in late March. And this is an interesting time that we're in. There's been a lot of Zoome calls going on because of the Covid crisis.

Rob Thiessen:
And, and so the church is, you know, learning a new way to communicate and be the church together. We feel like God is teaching us some amazing things. But one of the disappointments for us as a community is that our pastors and spouses retreat that we had planned, had to be canceled, and Ron Sider, our speaker, obviously is not able to travel up from the states. So we're doing a podcast conversation and looking forward to an opportunity, just again, to glean from your experience, your walk with the Lord, Ron. And we welcome you here, as we've already had you on a previous podcast. We've introduced you and you, you are a brother who loves the Lord and who has invested his life in reaching and serving the global church with the message of the love of Christ, the peace of Christ. And you've done a lot of thinking on peace and non resistance, pacifism. So we want to dive into that conversation. I think I'll just share with, with our listeners how a connection happened with me. And I don't, you know, I don't know if I asked you, I'm sure you don't remember me, Ron, because I was maybe 20 ish and I was in a class at Regent College during the summer studies. And you were teaching.

Rob Thiessen:
And I remember, I remember that you were teaching about pacifism and what the scripture teaches about violence. And even though I had grown up in a Mennonite Brethren Church, I don't, I know I had never heard anybody articulate, carefully,a thought through sort of theology and practical thinking about love and on resistance, about pacifism. And so I was busy taking notes and so intrigued that you had thought through so many issues and thought through all the presenting problem was the questions that I had in my mind about how this actually worked.

Rob Thiessen:
And then another thing I distinctly remember was that you were a fun person, that you, I remember you talking about a fishing trip and that you were so excited that you were going to go salmon fishing. And I don't know if you actually maybe did catch a salmon on that trip, too, but.

Dr. Ron Sider:
I caught a twenty three pound salmon in Horseshoe Bay. I think it was on that trip that I was speaking at Regent. It would have won the Derby the previous year.

Rob Thiessen:
Ok, well still that dates you because nobody is catching twenty three pound salmon in Horseshoe Bay anymore, so that's pretty amazing. Yeah, Yeah. That was in those days gone by. Now you got to go further out into the Pacific to catch a decent salmon, but that's great.

Rob Thiessen:
And I remember when you shared that, and it was funny that stuck in my head and I thought, oh, he, he's, this is a knowledgeable man with a, you know, PHD from Yale, and done research and spoke globally. But you were also a joyful person who just looked forward to simple things in life. And I think the other thing that struck me is that you are modeling a living, a simple life, that what the stories that you've shared about your own life and journey, showed me that this was not theory for you, that this was that living as a person of peace was how you practice your life. And I know even reading in your book now recently, tell us a little bit about your, your church experience. You know, what kind of a, kind of churches you've, you've been in, in the last couple of years. You mentioned with me about the, you know, some of the challenges of being in an interracial church and how, how that's how that's been for you now.

Dr. Ron Sider:
Well, I counted myself an evangelical Anabaptist all my life. I grew up in southern Ontario in a Brother in Christ congregation, married an Amish, Mennonite redhead. And we've been, I've worked in the broader evangelical community. A lot of my life since nineteen eighty approximately. We have been in mennonite congregations, mostly inner city and interracial. We now go to Oxford Circle Mennonite church which is an amazing place.

Dr. Ron Sider:
It's maybe 40 or more percent Anglo, maybe 15 percent African-American, 50 percent Hispanic, couple Palestinian families, a couple more Filipino families, a whole bunch of interracial people. It's just a wonderful place that combines a passion to invite people to come to Christ and concern for the whole person.

Dr. Ron Sider:
I like to say, as I said in one of my sermons there, people need Jesus in a job. And so we have a very active community center that does educational stuff and runs a thrift store. And so on. But we're concerned to put Christ at the center of that.

Rob Thiessen:
That's great. That reminds us of a church here in our Abbotsford area called the Life Center. That is also clear that they just have, that as one of their absolute goals, that they would have many races present in their worship and they orient their worship around that.

Rob Thiessen:
That's a great expression. So let's jump, jump into a topic here, and I'm going to be raising some questions from one of your latest books called Speak Your Piece. And this one is published by Harold Press, maybe came out last year. Is that right?

Dr. Ron Sider:
Actually, just this February. It's the shorter version of the longer, more scholarly book that Baker published called, If Jesus is Lord, Loving Our Enemies in an Age of Violence. But soon as I did that, even before that came out, I said, I really want more popular version for the average reader, a Sunday school class kinda version.

Dr. Ron Sider:
So I cut out almost all the footnotes and reduce the text. And at the heart of it, I think an easy read for anybody who's finished high school.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah, it's great. Well, I appreciated it. So I finished high school, just barely. But it was, it was great for me. And you open your book by addressing a question that a lot of people have around pacifist. And we're going to use that term and ask you to talk a little bit about that as well. Maybe you can open with that. But you know that the term pacifism sounds to a lot of people like being passive. And, you know, you're clearly not using it that way. But one of the opening questions is, you know, how can it be right to stand by and let innocent people be killed? I think that a lot of people have this initial gut reaction. What are you telling me? Are you telling me that as a Christian, somebody, I'm walking down a street, somebody attacks my children and I'm going to not do anything about it? I'm not going to use violent force to protect my family in a in a pinch in a struggle to protect innocent life? That seems wrong. It seems unchristian. And, and so you tackle that question right out of the gate, which I think is great. So walk us through how you respond to this. You know, the initial visceral common response like, that can't be right to just sit by idly and watch this happen.

Dr. Ron Sider:
Well, I think the strongest argument against a person who says that Jesus said we should never kill. The strongest argument is that those people really don't take any responsibility for maintaining peace and justice in the world, that they are fundamentally irresponsible. And I use C.S. Lewis famous statement that he's pretty sure that if somebody was trying to push Jesus aside in order to go and kill or harm somebody just a little further along, Jesus would not just step aside. And I say, I agree with C.S. Lewis. I say I agree with the Gandhi who said if the only two choices are to do nothing in the face of terrible evil and violence or to kill, then of course, we kill. But the problem or the solution is that they're are never just two choices. There's always the third possibility, which is to act nonviolently, to oppose evil. And in the last hundred years, especially the last 50 or so, there's been an amazing history of successful nonviolence. It's not just Gandhi, of course, in some ways defeated the British Empire with nonviolence. Martin Luther King changed American history, U.S. history. There was an amazing, successful, spontaneous, almost nonviolent campaign in the Philippines that overthrew the dictator Marcos there. The story just go on and on. The solidarity movement in Poland really defeated the Marxist dictatorship of Poland. And so the evidence is in fact, there's been a scholarly book this published a few years ago that studied about 300 of the most important violent and nonviolent campaigns, for justice. And they discovered that the nonviolent campaigns are almost twice as likely to succeed as the violent campaigns.

Dr. Ron Sider:
And they're much more likely to result in a democratic future after the revolution. So it's simply false history to say that there are only two choices to be totally passive, do nothing or to kill. There's always a third option of nonviolent intervention. And the historical evidence is that again and again, it's very successful.

Rob Thiessen:
Ok. So that's, I'll play the devil's advocate here on this. So it's a common thing, I think you say. Right. So maybe nonviolence works when you're dealing with a person who has some kind of moral scruples or know some personal boundaries. What if you're dealing with a dictator like Hitler and ruthless, you know, bent on evil and murder and destruction wasn't the only pathway to resist him to organize armies and fight back. And you know what? What what do you say about that? I know you touched on that a little bit in the book, and I've read some interesting stories along that line, too. But tell us a little bit about options there.

Dr. Ron Sider:
Yeah, it's sometimes suggested that Gandhi's kind of nonviolence only works against nice British imperialists. Correct. Actually they were pretty nasty. They killed, killed many, many of his people in brutal ways. But the stories of successful nonviolence are not just against British folk in the Philippines. It was a vicious dictator. And the common wisdom was that the only way to overthrow him would be 10 years of a military, a violent campaign. And they did it non-violently. Solidary in Poland was dealing with Marxist Leninist, the communist dictatorship in Poland. And they won, nonviolently. Even in the case of Hitler, it certainly wasn't a non-violent campaign that finally defeated him. But there were a bunch of non-violent efforts that had quite amazing success. The Danes and I think the Norwegians both use non-violence quite successfully. My basic comment on Hitler is this. I can't prove this, but I think that if the German Christians had decided to use non-violence against Hitler, he would certainly have killed started killing those those Christian leaders. No question. But I think that the German generals would probably have overthrown Hitler before he killed a million German Christians. Now, they didn't do that. So I don't have that evidence. What we do have is evidence that non-violence works not just against nice British gentlemen, but against vicious communist dictators and dictators like Markos.

Rob Thiessen:
I remember a few years back, I read a book, I read a book called On the Tail of a Comet, The Story of Frank Bookman. And he's a Pennsylvania Lutheran fellow that was very involved in the student renewal on university campuses, just pre World War Two. And he went to Norway as well. And I remember in that book, it was interesting to read about the Lutheran Church in Norway, and he said similar things to you.

Rob Thiessen:
He said that their faith was much stronger. There was real renewal in the Lutheran Church in Norway. And because of that, they, they had solidarity that German Lutheran Church did not have. They were convicted and unified. And it was the Lutheran Church that really brought the country together to, to resist Naziism. And the Nazis could not you know, they could not shape the country with fear the way they did in other places.

Rob Thiessen:
And this is an interesting thing that you're proposing, is that when Christ followers stand in solidarity, that, that this is a powerful force.

Rob Thiessen:
What about, what have you thought about?

Dr. Ron Sider:
Our first question Rob, is not will it work? Does it help us, not get hurt? The first question is, if we think Jesus is true God and true man, if we think that the eternal son became incarnate, then the question that first of all matters is what did Jesus say? If Jesus is Lord then we can't say, well Jesus, you said we are not supposed to, we're supposed to love our enemies, but it doesn't work in a violent world so I'm sorry. We have to set you aside. That's basically what Reinhold Niebuhr does. But can biblical Christians do that? So the first question is. What did Jesus say? I think.

Rob Thiessen:
Good. OK. Let's go in to let's go into that question. Let's maybe ask you to give the three minute outline of the New Testament evidence for peace and nonviolence. And I know you've done this a lot. You can do this effectively. But give us the thumbnail sketch of why you believe the New Testament presents this consistent.

Dr. Ron Sider:
Yeah, the first couple chapters of the book, Speak Your Piece, say it is a little more than three minutes. But here is the core.

Dr. Ron Sider:
Jesus came claiming to be the Messiah. At that time in history, there were a bunch of Jewish rebels who claimed that if the Jewish people would just rise up in armed rebellion, then that would facilitate the coming of the Messiah. And they thought that the Messiah would be one who would, in fact, lead a military struggle against the Romans.

Dr. Ron Sider:
Jesus comes along and says he is the Messiah, but says that his messianic kingdom is very different. It comes with loving enemies. It comes with them being willing to die rather than to kill. The Sermon on the Mount is, you know, right at the center. And Jesus says it's been said, you know, don't swear falsely.

Dr. Ron Sider:
But I say don't swear at all. And there are clear Old Testament commands that say you're supposed to swear. Jesus says, and it's been said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That was the very center of Old Testament jurisprudence and Middle Eastern jurisprudence for a couple thousand years or more. And Jesus says no. Even though the Old Testament commands an eye for an eye. Jesus says no. That's not the way my kingdom people live. And Jesus says, love your enemies. And he says that includes loving Roman imperialists carrying the Roman soldiers pack. Not just one mile, which was a legal requirement, but, but two miles

Dr. Ron Sider:
So at the center of Jesus' teaching is this unheard of command to love even enemies. And Jesus, in fact, died saying that's the way God wants us to live. Romans, and Paul in Romans, says that at the cross, God loved his enemies. That's what God was doing on the cross.

Dr. Ron Sider:
Now, if Jesus had stayed dead, of course, and that would have been clear proof that his way of loving enemies was a dead end. It doesn't work. But he was alive on the third day. The resurrection is absolutely crucial to any understanding of biblical passivism, biblical non-violence. If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, then he's not Messiah, he's not God in the flesh, and he certainly is not somebody we ought to follow when it comes to dealing with enemies. But he did rise from the dead. So that's kind of the core of what he had to say.

Rob Thiessen:
Good. Well, that's, I think, powerful. You just, you remind us that, you know, Jesus would have had every opportunity to engage in violent, you know, an embracing of sort of let's organize an army, let's have a just war response. And he is central to his teaching and he chose a different pathway, that he called us to a different life. So, and that's helpful now maybe now, I'll ask you, I'll ask you to play the devil's advocate and just outline for us how just war people who are saying, no, no, no, there's you know, there's a defensible place for the use of lethal violence. And the New Testament supports that as well. How how did they present that case? And maybe you can summarize it for us.

Dr. Ron Sider:
Yeah, well, the core of the just arc war argument is that it went when these to start St. Augustine, for example, is very clear. One starts with Jesus command to love our enemies. But he says that under certain circumstances, if one is dealing with a war, an enemy where you have a just cause, where you have a just declaration of war, so the opponent has time to respond. As long as you don't target civilians, you target only the enemies of soldiers. And a number of criteria, if those are fulfilled. And one of them is that war must be a last resort. You have to have tried all the reasonable, not, not every conceivable with all the reasonable, non-violent ways of solving this before you go to war.

Dr. Ron Sider:
So if you meet those criteria, then it's right to go to war in terms of trying to find biblical rationale for that,

Dr. Ron Sider:
some people say, well, there are soldiers in the New Testament, stories of Jesus and the apostles dealing soldiers, and in the case of Peter and Kornelius, they became Christian, but they didn't tell them to leave the army. Problem with that is that that's total argument from silence. For all we know, Peter did tell him to stop being a soldier. If I argued that it would be an argument from silence and have no merit. But the other part of it has no merit either. We also know that Centurions like Kornelius, you know, were leading their soldiers in religious exercises. Nobody claims that since, Peter didn't say stop leading pagan religious activity. Therefore, it's OK to do that. Again, we have to deal with what we know and not run arguments from silence. Probably the most common argument is Romans 12 and 13, where typical just war person will say no in Romans twelve, Paul says, Christians in their private life don't kill, but Romans 13, Paul says the government is ordained by God and government uses the sword. And therefore Christians in their public role, there's this crucial distinction between public and private, in their public role Christians properly kill. The problem with that is, is multiple, but one part is that Romans 12 explicitly says that Christians are non-violent.

Dr. Ron Sider:
They leave vengeance to God. And then in Romans 13, Paul uses exactly the same Greek words to talk about what government does. Using words that he explicitly said just a little bit before, Christians don't do. The obvious interpretation is to say government does some things that Christians are not supposed to do. There's also the argument that even in the Gospels, Jesus is talking about private life, not public life. Problem with that is there's no hint whatsoever in Jesus that he's talking just about private life. Even this statement about carrying a soldier's pack, the second mile, and that's talking about the public life where you're dealing with the Roman imperialists. And Jesus says, you know, love them, don't attack them. There's, there's not a hint in Jesus. Another clear example of the of the public is Jesus says it's been said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. I mean, that's the very center of public judicial activity. And Jesus is saying no. So all of the indication in Jesus is that he is talking about the whole of one's life, not just one's personal, private life in the family. And saying in one's public life, then one does something different.

Rob Thiessen:
So in Romans 13, the way Paul lays it out, he, he in some senses, legitimizes, you know what he does

Rob Thiessen:
He clearly legitimizes the government's prerogative and role, saying it's a God ordained role that they carried the sword. So they do what they do in carry out their assignment. But that shouldn't be our way. Our business is what you're arguing from Romans 12.

Dr. Ron Sider:
I would, I would want to be careful that Paul does not say that government ought to use lethal violence. He says they do. And he says that God uses that. But God uses evil people. God used Cyrus but didn't

Dr. Ron Sider:
want or ordaine all kinds of vicious things that Cyrus did. So it's true that Paul says very clearly, God uses government to restrain evil and they often use violence to do that. He doesn't say God wants them to do that. It may very well be that there's a better way to work for justice, work for peace, restrain evil, then the lethal weapon.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah. Yeah. Well, that's good. Good. Thanks. In case, you keep pointing that point, those things out.

Rob Thiessen:
Correct me if I, if I wander into the woods on something. So let's jump from that because it, it, it leads us to the challenge we have in, in our day. Now, you know, you've got Jesus and Paul and what they're teaching in a context of, you know, a Roman Empire. Then you've got the move to Constantine and Christianisation, if you will, of quotation marks of the empire. And then you, Trans, move up to our day where it's a democracy. And you and I, as Christians, we're living in a society where we we're, we're so engaged by virtue of the system, the democratic system, we're engaged with the government. And you also, as you have really invested your life in trying to help shape government policy and saying it's response, we have a responsibility as citizens. It's almost a situation that the New Testament, you know, doesn't that you were struggling to fit their experience with our experience. Now it's different. How do you wrestle with this citizen of the Kingdom of God? Following the Sermon on the Mount and the teachings of Christ, but now a citizen of Canada, a citizen of the United States, responsible. How do you wrestle with that? What are some of the boundaries that the idea that it just sort of say that we can fall into on this journey and you can share from your U.S. situation?

Rob Thiessen:
But we, we have similar issues here in Canada, maybe not quite so extreme when we watch our neighbors to the south, but similar.

Dr. Ron Sider:
Well, I think the starting point has to be Jesus again and Christians first commitment is to be faithful to Jesus. If Jesus tells us never to kill, then we should never kill. If Jesus tells us to be truthful, then we shouldn't lie. And so on. But, I think it's also true that our political situation is dramatically different than that of Jesus. He was living under an imperialistic dictatorship, if you will. There were very, very few, you know, political rights. You certainly didn't vote to decide who the emperor was.

Dr. Ron Sider:
I think that in our different setting, Christians should, first of all, Christians believe that Jesus is lord of all of life. That includes politics. So he certainly should be lord of how we engage politically. It's also true that government affects the lives of billions of people by their decisions. And so if we can, through the democratic process, shape, push government to be more fair, more just more peaceful, then it seems to me we should do that. Now we always should do that in a way that's faithful to Jesus. We shouldn't say, well, OK. To get elected, I'll abandoned central things that Jesus said, you know, that won't work. But in a democratic process, no, we get to choose between one or two or three people in a final national election.

Dr. Ron Sider:
And one of my beloved bishops when I was young. It's an absolute gentlemen believed that he shouldn't vote because he thought that meant endorsing everything that that candidate stood for. Now, I understand or respect that view, but I think it's fundamentally wrong. If I vote as I will this fall in the US for a Democratic candidate against Donald Trump, it will not be because I think I agree with, or I want to endorse everything that the Democratic candidate stands for. It means that I think on balance, that candidate represents more of what would be God's will for the society than the alternative. So I think we should regularly vote, as Christians. We are citizens of Christ kingdom. We're also citizens of our country.

Dr. Ron Sider:
Christ must be in charge of our actions everywhere, but violate Christian principles to say in this election, I think this candidate on balance, has a set of policies that are closer to what a biblically balanced agenda would be than the alternative. I've got a book called Just Politics, where I try to develop a biblical framework for thinking about politics.

Rob Thiessen:
Well, it strikes me, Dr. Sider, that in the US situation, I mean, both sides are doing so, that it's almost like you're, you're holding your nose a little bit yet and voting. Right? That's what I think. It gets worse than that. That's not a good metaphor. But it's a much more serious than that. But you are you're there's a compromise in your mind.

Rob Thiessen:
It's part of a part of your engagement in the, in the kingdom of this world. Right. In our democratic system is to say. So what you're saying is first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of God, Hundred percent committed to obedience. And that pathway also did the best of our ability with that allegiance in mind, being responsible and active citizens, taking every opportunity that we have in our country to to be good citizens.

Rob Thiessen:
I think that the hopeful that the helpful way, it doesn't solve all the problems that we have and it doesn't mean we are going to agree.

Rob Thiessen:
Right. Republicans will in the US will probably take a similar approach and saying, well, I don't agree with everything Trump is doing. But on the whole, I would prefer his policies over, you know, a certain Democratic candidate. And we have to do the same thing here in Canada, make our choices.

Rob Thiessen:
So that's it. That's helpful. Doesn't make it easier, but but it's a helpful perspective.

Rob Thiessen:
Talk a little bit with us. Maybe there's a key area here that I want you to address. And this goes back to a theological question. We were talking about this beforehand. That Mennonite Brethren are Evangelical Anabaptists. So that's our, our heritage. We,and for Mennonite Brethren, we think that's what Anabaptist are, right back to their history, that they were people committed to the word of God, committed to the preaching of the gospel and conversion was important. And also embracing the full teaching of Christ and not just the cross, but the teaching of Christ. And yet today, as we sort of track with the evolving Anabaptist community, we have authors writing now pop your spokes people calling themselves Anabaptists. I think of Gregory Boyd, who identifies as an Anabaptist. Brian McLaren is not you know, he's written a fair bit in the past here in Canada. Brad Jersak, he's not Anabaptist per say, but popular among Anabaptist readers. And various cities' authors are leaning away from teaching us particularly about the cross, saying that, you know, it's just unthinkable that God, that a raffle God would pour out judgment upon his own son on the cross. So they are reframing the cross as a non-violent event. And, you know, for us who have looked at the cross, you know, in our evangelical tradition saying, no, no, no. It's very essential. In fact, it's it's how we understand what happened at the cross that Christ bore our sins. And the penalty for our sins, that just righteous judgment of God against our sins and taken by God himself. So how have you reflected on that? And how do you interact with this sort of, you know, rewrite, if you will, of of the cross that seems to be happening and popular because it's troubling to our community and we're trying to sort our way out through it.

Dr. Ron Sider:
You know, I, I wrote a chapter for a book that Norman Krauss edited and Herald Trust, published in 1977. The title of the book was Evangelicalism and Anabaptism, or Mennonites and Anabaptists, Mennonites and Evangelicals. And my chapter argued that if you're really a,

Dr. Ron Sider:
consistent Evangelical, and believe the full authority of the scripture, then you have to be an Anabaptist and believe in peacemaking. And if you're consistent Anabaptist and believe in the full authority of scripture, then you have to be an Evangelical. And I wasn't, well, I think the first place to start in that is to ask what is the gospel? And there are a lot of Evangelicals that basically reduce the gospel to just forgiveness of sins so we can go to heaven when we die. And the only reason Jesus came was to die on the cross as a substitute for our sins. Now, that's only half of the gospel.

Dr. Ron Sider:
And, I like to say, if the gospel is just forgiveness of sins, so you go to heaven when you die, That's a one way ticket to heaven, and you can live like hell till you get there. But Jesus said the gospel is the good news of the kingdom. And right at the center of that good news is that Jesus died for our sins and that we get our sins forgiven just because God chooses to accept us when we ask for forgiveness. But the other half is that the kingdom is beginning the kingdom of peace and justice and wholeness. Jesus challenge the status quo with all kinds of points where it was wrong and the early church was this new kingdom community. So you have to have for starters, Jesus' gospel of the kingdom. And then when it comes specifically to the atonement, one needs to. If you're going to be biblical, then you need to ask, what does the New Testament actually tell us about the cross? I think that there's a, a part of the modern church that wants to accept half of God, God's love and forgiveness without God's holiness and God's justice. And it's just as clear in the New Testament as in the old that God is a god of holiness, that God hates sin, that God's wrath is against not just sin in general, but the sinners when they do evil things. And for Paul and all of the new testament, the cross is the very center, not the only part, but it's at the center of biblical faith. And Paul says very clearly that at the cross, Jesus took our curse, which came on us because of our sins and became the curse for us. Jesus became our substitute. And that's at the center of the whole New Testament.

Dr. Ron Sider:
So if you want to say with Danny Weaver, for example, Mennonite theologian, but the cross has nothing to do with your Christian faith and salvation. You're simply contradicting a central part of what the New Testament says. Now, I think Evangelicals frequently make mistakes at a couple of points at this point.

Dr. Ron Sider:
One is, that they say the gospel is just forgiveness of sins. And even the great creeds, the Apostles Creed in the Nicene Creed go from Jesus' birth to Jesus' death as if nothing happened in between. And that's simply not biblical. It's clear that Jesus lived and taught us how to live. The Sermon on the Mount is a central part of it, but so is the cross. And I think the other big mistake is to think that what's happening at the cross is that we have an angry father beating the whatever you want to say out of an innocent son. That's simply a fundamental misunderstanding, a fundamental misunderstanding of Trinitarian theology. The Trinity always acts as one. And what it does. And so at the cross, we have the father and the Son and the Holy Spirit present. We have the father suffering just as much as the son at the cross.

Dr. Ron Sider:
It's, I think the most amazing statement about holding together God's holiness and God's wrath against sin. It would be an awful world if, if sin just continued forever, unchecked and unpunished. But God holds that together at the cross in the most amazing way. God's wrath. Yes, but God's love and the resurrection shows that God's love conquers. If Jesus had stayed dead, you know, the final word would be, I guess God's wrath is greater than God's love. But Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus takes our place. God holds together this Holiness and mercy in the most awesome way I can imagine. The other thing to say is that I think when you're talking about the atonement, you have to ask, what are all the different pictures in the New Testament, images, if you like, on the atonement. And one certainly is substitutionary atonement. Jesus became a curse for us. He took our place, our substitute. But another one is the moral view, the atonement. The the cross shows us God's love teaches us about love and the Christus Victor. Christ conquering evil is also an important view of the atonement, both in Jesus' life where he's conquering Satan and the demons, and then at resurrection when he conquers death itself. A crisis overcoming evil. And what we want to do is hold together all of these biblical views of the atonement. If we just take one, then we don't have the full biblical picture and none of them by itself captures everything that we need to understand. So I, I want to embrace all of the three major views of the atonement, because I think they're all taught in the scripture.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah. Yeah.

Rob Thiessen:
I think we've, we had this, a bit of a theological debate as a mennonite brethren community a few years back around these various views of the atonement, representations of the atonement from scripture.

Rob Thiessen:
But I think Dr. Sider when you...

Dr. Ron Sider:
One more comment Rob, One can quote quite prominent evangelicals saying, that the only way that God could have forgiven our sins was for Jesus to die as thier substitute.

Dr. Ron Sider:
I want to be careful at that point, I don't find anything in the New Testament that says, that was the only way God could do it. What the New Testament says is that's the way God chose to do it. And so the substitutionary through the atonement is one crucial part of a New Testament theology. But let's not go beyond what the New Testament says. I imagine an infinite God could have chosen any number of ways to hold together his holiness and his love and to forgive our sense. But certainly the way he chose is for God self. To suffer on the cross.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah. Yeah. That's really good.

Rob Thiessen:
I remember having a teacher when I was at the Capenwray School years ago and he was unpacking the Atonement. And he presented something like you said, you know, logically why this was the way it had to happen. And I remember thinking there's an interesting perspective, but it was an imposition of of of human rationale to try and explain a mystery that it just it doesn't need our explanation for for the reasons. It, it, it's enough in itself that it completely, so transforms, an upsets any reason that we could, it reveals such a mystery to us that it just can be stand on its own and it be accepted. And I think for me, you know, I've often as I've been frothing about this, you know, I think the Christus Victor, what a tremendous picture of God's victory for Satan, his victory through the cross and the resurrection. It inspires us the moral theory. But for me as a lost person, what he did in substitution atonement explains to me or shows me it's the path by which I can enter in. It's the doorway for me. And, and so this is why that, that particular, I think, aspect of the work of the cross is.

Rob Thiessen:
So it's repeated all through the authors of the New Testament. They all talk about this.

Rob Thiessen:
And, and it's, it's not, I don't think it's the universal. I think a lot of people come to Christ through different ways. You know, they experience salvation, the love of God. But it is amazing how many, how many people. And when you look at, say, for instance, worship music, how much of it centers on the mystery that you just described on what this transaction on the cross that a holy God should reach out to us broken sinners. And if we, if we take that out of our, our scriptures and our experience, I don't know, our worship songs would just be gutted. You know, because it's just like when we look at that, we're looking as close as we get to the action of God and his love for us, and it's just, it's awesome, you know, and it's transformative when people hear that, boy, you know, me and many, many others, Christians, you just hear this testimony that when, when I understood that I knew, you know, God was for me and this was, this was salvation.

Rob Thiessen:
You know, It's good.

Dr. Ron Sider:
It's absolutely wonderful that we stand before a holy God all of our life and forever. Accepted, forgiven because Jesus took our place. Now I think, you know, popular Christian music too often focuses exclusively on that and doesn't tell us other aspects of the gospel. But I certainly don't want to ever forget that central part.

Rob Thiessen:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's good.

Rob Thiessen:
Well, Dr. Sider, thank you for taking time again for us to have this conversation.

Rob Thiessen:
I think we've, we've been chatting here for a good long time, about as long as, you know, our listening audience can can probably get a handle in one session. But, you know, it's I don't know what the, what the future will hold. I was thinking, you know what? We're going through this whole Corona virus thing. And we as Christians are also now listening to the dictates of our governments, wondering what the responsible and Christian thing to do is when they tell us we can't meet together. And it's, it's one of those things initially we think, you know, and my reaction was, well, this is outrageous, you know, well, how can they dictate this? But, you know, they must be against us, I thought. And then, of course, I listen and I'm thinking, well, no, they're not against us at all. They're just trying to help society do well. So and we we're thinking in as responsible citizens and say, OK, what what does the Lord ask of us here and how can we best honor the Lord? So we'll always keep working on these things. And thank you for, you know, your faithful following of Christ in your life and and for taking the time to, to write and try to engage and help equip the body of Christ. It's certainly been a blessing to me and I hope to our listeners and. Yeah. Thank you.

Dr. Ron Sider:
Thanks, Rob. Good to be with you.

Rob Thiessen:
And for our listeners. Have a great day. And keep safe.

Rob Thiessen:
May the Lord bless you. Look forward to seeing you again, or being with you again on the BCMB podcast. Bye bye.

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