Wineskins Archive

December 11, 2013

Book Review: Jesus and Non-Violence

Filed under: — @ 10:49 pm and

By Adam Gonnerman

If the teaching of Jesus in the synoptic Gospels leaves you befuddled and discouraged, you need to read Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way by Walter Wink.

Like most people, I’m accustomed to reading a book starting from the beginning. It thus only makes sense that when I received a Gideon’s New Testament when I was in the fifth grade, I started reading in Matthew. Though the translation was perfectly clear, it felt as though I was entering a strange world and dealing with impossible concepts. Jesus’ words about turning the other cheek and giving without limit seemed “out there” and impractical. This is how many people read it, I’m afraid.

In reality, the teaching of Jesus is supremely practical, but only once we look at it in the historical context, removing layers of traditional interpretation and obtaining a clearer vision of the purpose of Jesus’ earthly ministry. This process began for me a few years ago when a friend got me on to listening to N.T. Wright‘s lectures and reading his books, and with further reading of other authors I felt my appreciation for the teachings of Jesus growing. One thing led to the other, Walter Wink made his way onto my reading list.

Here’s the gist:
Jesus taught nonviolent resistance to oppression. This may sound wrong to you, given that most English translations have him saying “resist not evildoers.” This has been taken to mean that we are to passively suffer wrongdoing. To the contrary, as Rev. Wink explains in “Jesus and Nonviolence,” it actually refers to not violently resisting.

“A proper translation of Jesus’ teaching would then be, “Don’t strike back at evil (or, one who has done you evil) in kind.” “Do not retaliate against violence with violence.” The Scholars Version is brilliant: “Don’t react violently against the one who is evil.'”

Wasn’t Jesus a pacifist? Walter Wink says “no,” and I believe he’s right.

“Jesus abhors both passivity and violence as responses to evil.”

Evolution has given us two options to deal with threats: fight or flight. Jesus provides us a third option, nonviolent resistance.

Jesus and Nonviolence” is an absolute must-read for anyone attempting to make sense of what Jesus said and did between the manger and the cross. So much of our understanding of Jesus is limited a narrow reading of the post-Pentecost apostolic teaching, one that leaves us with the impression that what happened in Jesus’ life was irrelevant, appart from the fact that he did not sin. This is completely untrue.

The true way of discipleship in the face of violence is neither pacifism nor violence, but rather militant nonviolence. Jesus showed us the way, and Walter Wink does an excellent job of bringing these biblical teachings fully to light.

  “The cross means that death is not the greatest evil one can suffer. It means that I am free to act faithfully without undue regard for the outcome. God can bring out of voluntarily assumed suffering the precious seeds of a new reality. I cannot really be open to the call of God in a situation of oppression if the one thing I have excluded as an option is my own suffering and death.”

For more on Jesus and his teaching of nonviolence, you can begin with the following video from a talk Walter Wink gave a few years ago:

This review originally appeared at Adam’s blog, <a href=”” target=”_blank”>Missional Journeyman</a></i><br />

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