May 28, 2009

The Gift of Meekness: A Counter to N.T. Wright's Case For A Stronger United Nations, PART 1

NT Wright on a stronger United Nations

Usually, whenever I find myself discussing issues of war and peace with other Christians, they always ask the exact same question: What if there is another Adolf Hitler [insert the name of a Two-Thirds world dictator here if you like]? From the very start, these Christians who are advocates usually of some form of Just War theory are asking the wrong question. That is the problem with Christians today! In order to make their case for the destruction of human life, they start out with inquiries based on fear of what happened in the past the Shoah or the Holocaust during World War II in most circles. As Christians, we participate in the life of Jesus the Messiah; therefore, he should be the beginning and end of all ethical questions and not Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong IL. We should be asking, “What has Jesus done? What is Jesus doing? What will Jesus do?” NT Wright is one of those Christians that I was referring to earlier, the ones not asking the correct questions to begin conversations of ethical discourse. Rather than phrasing the question in a way that is Christ-centered, Wright, for example begins his case for a strong United Nations with typical Just War logic. Let us examine his case.

1. N T Wright says about the doctrine of just war:

"The doctrine of ‘just war’ was developed in order to emphasize that, though war is always an evil, sometimes it is the lesser of two evils.
Doing justice, in whatever form, is always about anticipating in the present God’s eventual design to put the whole world to rights, to gather up all things in heaven and on earth into Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1.10). Though God will eventually do this completely and fully, he does not want the creation to lapse into complete chaos in the present age, and so calls into being structures of human government and authority to bring about a measure of order, some kind of anticipation of his eventual putting-to-rights of all things."

Granted, Wright has to simplify his definition of what the doctrine of just war is for a general audience rather than a particularly Christian one, but he is defending the traditional Christian case for just wars. Now, the first problem is that he suggests that “doing justice, in whatever form” is done in the anticipation of God’s act of justifying the entire creation. I question the idea that we can be just in “whatever form.” From a Christian standpoint, we have a peculiar way of examining what is or is not just and that is the Justifier (Romans 5). There are many forms of justice; among them are: social justice, racial justice, gender justice, environmental justice, retributive justice, restorative justice, and transformative justice. The question we have to ask ourselves is: does God’s justice include all of these, only one of these, or just a few of these forms of justice. Christian concepts of any form of justice begin with God’s image, or Jesus the Messiah.
Rather than beginning questions of justice with inquiries such as, ‘Why does this or that injustice exist?’ and then subsequently answer that question with an answer that may or may not be biblical, one should start with, “How did/is Christ, God’s righteousness revealed, manage/ managing this event?” Secondly, Wright is presenting a God of LAW and ORDER who soothes the bourgeois classes’ fears of THEIR society going into utter chaos. Chaos is seen as a problem, as something that must be confronted and controlled. Does Wright ever bother to ask if chaos is God’s instrument to fashion the world, by allowing various free agents with free will living within the order that God sustains so that God can have a loving, covenantal relationship with that creation? John Howard Yoder had quite different Christian understanding by which God brings the state and political institutions into order:

"to put them in order, sovereignly to tell them where they belong, what is their place. It is not as if there was a time when there was no government and then God made government through a new creative invention; there has been hierarchy and authority and power since human society existed. […] Nor is it that by ordering this realm God specifically, morally approves of what a government does. […] God does not take responsibility for the existence of the rebellious ‘powers that be or for their shape or identity; they already are. What the text says is that God orders them, brings them into line, providentially and permissively lines them up with divine purposes." (Yoder, 203)

According to Yoder, God does not endorse or support any one form of government over the centuries; rather, God allows humans with free will to choose their preference of governance, and then God responds by sending witnesses to these powers in their place. The one rule that God accepts is the reign of the Messiah; the Church universal, which claims to adhere to Solo Christo), must subORDinate themselves under God’s chosen priest-king who both initiates and reigns in the nonviolent empire of God. All other forms of government are temporary, provisional, and fallen, and always in need of reform. No human empire or emperor has the divine right to impose their will upon the Earth. That authority is reserved solely for the Triune God; whether or not God has chosen to utilize domination as the means of accomplishing God’s will is a question to be answered in part 2.


mike fox said...


you've given me a lot to think about. as i've thought about wright's feelings about the u.n., i can't help but consider his location - he's a european! whether he knows it or not, his real-world location is obviously influencing his perspective on this issue. thanks for your thoughts.

Rod said...

No problem Mike.

I have 2 other parts of this series I will be posting. Watch out for them.

Celucien L. Joseph said...

I'm glad you incorporated God's justice in this conversation. It seems that you have a similar view of what God's justice is and entails, as I do. I believe God's justice is whole, holistic, in that it incorporates all forms of justice, as you articulated. (One of the shortcomings in contemporary debate on "justification" is that scholars have taken a limited view of "justice," in which "salvation” is the end of divine righteousness and justice. What is missing, however, in the dialogue is the need to see justification/justice in its full range and perspective---. God’s justice goes beyond the salvific aspect; it is a cosmic event, a planetary restoration. It involves all sorts of relations including God-human relations, human-human relations and the concern for the environment.

I thought I would comment on this aspect of the post. Good work!

Rod said...

Thank you, CJ!

I do believe in both horizontal and vertical justification, human to human and divine to human. I think that is the problem with this debate between the New Perspective on Paul and the Reformed folks.

Celucien L. Joseph said...

Will attend the SBL and/or ETS conferences this year in November? Both will be held in New Orleans. I will be addressing this very concern: "The Ethics of justification and the question of Race," in which the horizontal aspect of justification is pivotal or central to my argument.

Rod said...

No, CJ, I am not attending either conference in November. I like your arguments for horizontal justification so far from your blog. I definitely plan to keep up.

BtW, I am planning to blog soon about James Cone's doctrine of Justification. I just ran into it briefly and I think he has a lot to say.