Ronald Sider – Communicate Your Peace: … about loving your enemies

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Welcoming the kingdom of God on earth

A review of

Speak Your Peace: What the Bible Says About Loving Your Enemies
Ronald Sider

Paperback: Herald Press, 2020
Buy now: (Amazon) (Kindle)

Reviewed by Mae Elise Cannon

Speak Your Peace is a meaty book, not for the faint of heart. The title of the book is a succinct and solid theological treatise and a kind of misnomer, as it is not about "speaking" peace, but about what the application of pacifism and nonviolence might look like in action. The core theme of the book is whether or not Jesus' command to love his enemies precludes just war, the permissibility of violence, and whether killing is ever justified for someone who is a follower of Jesus. In the 21st century with wars on terrorism, increasing violence at home and abroad and the age of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, these are critical questions for the Church today.

Sider does a solid job of asking the central questions and responding with the teaching of Jesus – especially in light of Old Testament law, including answers to questions about nonviolence and pacifism, addressing core theological issues, deconstructing just war theory, and remembrance to the heart of the Gospel message "Jesus is Lord". Citing the success of nonviolent resistance campaigns, Sider calls on readers to take a third avenue of "energetic nonviolent resistance" when faced with responding to injustice and oppression in society. Sider rejects the notion that there are only two ways to respond to oppression – violence or doing nothing. Instead, he reminds readers of a third path, "vigorous nonviolent resistance against the aggressor", which can be pursued to the ultimate end: death as a sacrifice for the cause (124).

Speak Your Peace involves a deeply biblical, exegetical reflection of the Old Testament texts on killing. Sider goes on to reflect on the law of the Hebrew Scriptures in the light of New Testament teaching that the "law is but a shadow of the genuine reality revealed in Jesus Christ". (Hebrews 10: 1-18) (101). Sider gives a detailed consideration of how Jesus came to “not abolish the law and the prophets” but “to fulfill them” (28). He corrected misunderstandings of Old Testament law in some of Jesus' teachings. In other teachings he abrogated the provisions of the Old Testament and called "his disciples to a different, higher norm" (28). Sider offers reflections on the six opposites of the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 21-48) about murder and adultery, divorce, oaths, an eye for an eye, turning the other cheek, suing for one's own cloak and the second mile.

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Sierre's exegetical analysis of some of these complicated passages, which are often shortened and seldom thoroughly understood, helps to constructively concretize what Jesus really meant by "love your enemies". Sider describes how in each of these cases Jesus instructed the "oppressed Jews" to take the "initiative" and assert their "dignity" in a non-violent manner, "completely compatible with the love of the oppressor without approving of the oppression" (38 ). He concludes: "Only the liberating power of the Holy Spirit can transform self-centered sinners into persons capable of genuinely loving their enemies" (130).

How would Jesus' followers understand the command to love your enemies? The disciples of Jesus' day would have upheld the messianic expectations of the Savior as the deliverer of oppression. Craig Keener, the New Testament scholar, wrote: "Most Jews awaited final war against the Gentiles to culminate this age and opened their salvation" (16). Instead, Jesus came and broke down barriers between Jews and Gentiles and greeted those who wanted to follow him into the kingdom. Sider argues that Christ came to conquer, but not as the disciples expected. Instead of conquering the oppressive earthly rule of the Romans, Christ conquered evil and death in the resurrection, which ultimately dedicated the kingdom of God (24). Jesus redefined the messianic role and said: "In the new morning kingdom his followers must love their enemies, not kill them" (184). Sider sees the crucifixion of Christ on the cross as the ultimate fulfillment of this call to Jesus to love his enemies.

One of the strengths of Sierre's argument for pacifism is the evidence that nonviolent resistance is often more successful than violent liberation or attempted violence in response to oppression and injustice. According to a study by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, “nonviolent resistance campaigns were almost twice as successful as their violent counterparts” (124). Herein lies the strength of Sierre's argument – nonviolence is effective and pragmatic in achieving the goals of justice movements in response to oppression.

Another strength of Sierre's writing is his historical analysis of the history of violence in the context of the Church. He argues that violence was largely tolerated by the early Church only in the time of Constantine (38). It was only when Christianity became a state religion that Christians fought in large numbers in the army and used direct force to respond to their enemies. Chapter 13, on “Christians and Killing in Church History,” is one of Sierre's strongest as it reports on pre-Constantinian Christianity in which “there was not a single Christian author before Constatin who said killing or joining the military is ever legitimate ”(172). . Sider addresses the postponement of AD 313 when Constantine made it legal to be Christian, and early theologians like Ambrose and Augustine began constructing what is called the just war theory and the "official" position of most Christians that war and violence for followers could be justified by Christ if certain conditions were met. Sider goes on to address the inclusion of violence in official creeds of the Protestant Reformation, while making exceptions to the rule for Anabaptists, Quakers, and prominent figures like Dorothy Day. Martin Luther King Jr. Dwight L. Moody; Charles Spurgeon; and other.

The challenge of this short book of only 187 pages is that there is not enough space to adequately concretize and examine Sierre's arguments. He makes strong and absolute statements such as "to really live like Jesus is only possible for those who accept Christ as Lord and Savior and receive the transforming power of the Holy Spirit" (118). But then it is not about the follow-up questions that arise for the reader, such as: "What happens if the Christian witness does not reflect the transformation described in this way?" The good news is that this book is just a succinct rendering of Sierre's more academic and lengthy work: When Jesus Is Lord: Loving Enemies in an Age of Violence (Baker Academic, 2019). Several times during the reading process, I wished I had the more substantive arguments to really understand Sierre's thinking and logic when I came to certain conclusions.

One of Sider's conclusions in Speak Your Peace is a reminder that nonviolence requires the belief that God will ultimately suppress evil. “Justice seems to require a final judgment in which God deals with evil. Assurance of a final judgment on evil and the evildoers is also an essential foundation for nonviolence. "(86). Ultimately, the New Testament rejects a militaristic Messiah for Sider and rather declares that the "true Messiah conquers evil with suffering love". (87). Christians who have chosen to follow Jesus for Sider should follow this example and seek nonviolence in order to welcome the kingdom of God on earth in which forgiveness, justice and peace will reign (13).


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