What would you do if an evil person threatened to harm you? Is a Christian ever justified in joining the military? If so, when? If these are questions you’ve wrestled with, Preston Sprinkle’s book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-violence will provide a thoughtful new look at a question that is as old as the earth itself.
Preston Sprinkle (author, speaker, and teacher) has decided to take a biblical look at issues that not all Christians agree on. He wants to be willing to follow wherever an unbiased look at scripture will lead him. In his book Fight he tries to see if a Christian is justified in using physical force. If so, in what cases? If not, why not?
As the title gives away, he does decide that at least in some cases, non-violence is something to be embraced by the true followers of Jesus. I’ve briefly outlined the layout of the book below, and I offer my own opinions at the end.
Purpose of the book
Sprinkle gives three purposes for writing.
1. To champion using only scripture to draw a conclusion on this issue.
2. To discourage the American church from its militaristic stance, which is historically and scripturally incorrect.
3. To help all Christians find ways to actively do good rather than to sit passively because we are not free to pick up physical weapons to fight.
Definition of terms
There are two terms that must be carefully defined in any discussion on this topic.
Sprinkle defines violence as “A physical act that is intended to destroy (i.e. injure) a victim by means that overpower the victim’s consent” (p. 32).
He also differentiates between pacifism and non-violence, noting that pacifism often includes those who do not take action at all, whereas those who promote non-violence (as defined by him) ought to be actively engaged in bringing resolution to problems. In addition, many pacifists are not Christian, but a non-violent person cannot live out his ideology except through divine aid (p. 29).
History as a guide
Sprinkle begins his argument by looking at the progression of God’s plan for his people from the beginning of time until now. He divides his timeline into three main historical segments: Old Testament, New Testament, and early church history.
Was the God of the Old Testament by nature violent? If so, why did he change in the New Testament? If not, is all that killing in the Old Testament inconsistent with his nature? Any serious Christian has to take a look at the nature and heart of God. I find some of the violence in the Old Testament troubling, as do many others. Sprinkle provides helpful insights on this question.
Whether a Christian should or could be a part of the military was one of the big issues in the New Testament and the early church era, as it still is today. Sprinkle cites numerous early church writers. In addition, he examines the life of Jesus to see when and in what circumstances violence might be a Christ-like option.
I found myself agreeing with a lot of what this book said. It is important that we as Christians understand that redemption is an ongoing process. Every generation of God’s people ought to become more like him. Sprinkle emphasizes looking back on where we came from and seeking the heart of God as we move forward.
Sprinkle recognizes that many serious Christians do not agree with each other on this issue, thus we must be very careful not to be degrading or dismissive of any position that does not mirror our own. Many people have put more serious thought into this issue than I have, yet we find differing opinions.
I found it curious that Sprinkle tries to take a hyperbolic reading of God’s command in Deuteronomy 20.16,17 to completely annihilate the Canaanites (81-87). Whether the Israelites actually carried out the command has little to do with what was commanded. Sprinkle vilifies Gideon, even though he is listed as a hero of faith in Hebrews 11 (96,97). In other places he throws in statistics that seem unverifiable, such as the CIA being responsible for 6 million deaths (228,229). How can anyone count that? We have no idea how many people would have died if the CIA had not acted. We can’t know the “what ifs” of history.
In the end, he does give his opinion and chooses to take a stand based on his understanding. Really, that is all that any of us ought to do. No more and no less. We must be willing to take an honest look at the tough issues, using the Word of God to guide our thinking. We hold these positions in humility, recognizing that we see imperfectly. But we should also have confidence that we have sought the heart of God, using the tools he gave us.
Even though I didn’t agree with Sprinkle’s every word, Fight really is worth reading. He makes some very good points that I had not considered before.
“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Eph. 6.13, ESV). Truth is objective, and we must desire to know it.
For further reading on the subject of non-violence (or non-resistance as it is also known) I would recommend two other books The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder and Overcoming Evil God’s Way by Stephen Russell.
|Daniel Yutzy lives in Huntsville, Arkansas with his wife. For fun, he teaches music at a local church school, conducts choirs or ensembles, and dabbles in finger-style guitar and choral composition. He is as passionate about learning as he is about teaching. He enjoys being with people who know what is important and act accordingly. Alternately, a well written biography, novel, or history will keep him occupied for hours. He loves soft rain and beautiful corners of this marvelous world. God has blessed him beyond necessity.