THE GOSPEL OF PEACE AND THE VIOLENCE OF GOD,
by Scott Holland

Could it be that because Yahweh is a Warrior, we can be a people of peace?

SCOTT HOLLAND is a contributing editor to CrossCurrents. This paper was first read at the Consultation of Historic Peace Churches in conversation with the World Council of Churches, Decade to Overcome Violence, Bienenberg Theological Seminary, Switzerland, June 26, 2001.

I rest my case on the rights of desire. . .
On the god who makes even the small birds quiver.

-- Andre Brink, The Rights of Desire

On January 6, 2001, I flew out of the Pittsburgh International Airport bound for the Federal Republic of Nigeria. January 6 is Epiphany on the Christian calendar and it has always been my favorite holy day. Epiphany, of course, celebrates the manifestation of God to the Magi from the East. Those Wise Men followed neither the voices of the angels nor the paths of the Hebrew shepherds to Bethlehem. They were guided instead by the stars. With the strange scents of Babylon on their bodies, they entered the house of Mary and Joseph with exotic gifts for the Christ Child.

The Magi from Persia, like Persian mystics, sages and poets who followed them, such as Rumi, understood that the breath of the divine touched the primordial elements of life: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind. Many Christian mystics throughout the ages have likewise understood well how the metaphors and rituals of religion return us not merely to a text or tradition; indeed, they return us to our elemental passions. The waters of baptism are wet with the longings and losses of life. These mystics have taught us that religion, like life, is a tremendous and terrifying mystery.

I traveled to Nigeria at the invitation of the pastors of the Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa a Nigeria, the EYN, which is the Nigerian denomination started by the educational and medical missions of the Church of the Brethren early in the twentieth century.(1) The Church of the Brethren, along with the Mennonite Church and the Society of Friends, is one of the Historic Peace Churches. The EYN is now an indigenous, West African peace church in partnership with the Church of the Brethren.(2) The EYN Church had seen much violence the previous year and I was invited to address the Pastors' Majalisa or Synod in a number of lectures on peace, pluralism, and religious tolerance.

I flew into Kano, a Muslim city in the north. I spent my first night in the country there before traveling on to Jos for an orientation to Nigeria presented by EYN church leaders along with American and European church workers. I was awakened before dawn by a sound that was more chilling than comforting. It was a call to prayer that pierced the silent night like a sword:

God is most great!
God is most great!
I testify that there is no God but Allah.
I testify that Muhammad is the prophet of Allah.
Arise and pray, arise and pray.
God is great.
There is no God but Allah!

I found this voice crying out of the darkness chilling not because I don't value interreligious encounters and dialogues but because of Kaduna. Let me explain.

Kaduna is a city in the north of Nigeria that was the site of what Nigerians call "The Crisis." It is one of the Nigerian cities that truly embodies the ethnic, religious, and class diversity of modern Nigeria. Churches and mosques, beer parlors and Koranic schools stand side by side on the city's active streets. The crisis of Kaduna in February of 2000 was a bloody clash between Muslims and Christians that left churches, mosques, schools, libraries, homes, and businesses burned to the ground. At the end of several days of bitter fighting -- both in public riots and in private violent acts of retaliation -- it is estimated that The Crisis led to the deaths of as many as three thousand people, both Christians and Muslims.(3)

What led to this crisis? I regret to say it was religion -- fundamentalism, which is to say totalitarian religion.(4) It has been only two years since Nigeria has shifted from a military government to a fragile democracy. President Olusegun Obassenjo is a Christian committed to the formation of a democratic, pluralistic, secular state. However, Muslim fundamentalists, of whom there are many in Nigeria, sought to impose Sharia law, theocratic Islamic law, on the state and city of Kaduna. Thus, these words of religious law would become civil law -- including its penalties of amputations and floggings, its ban on alcohol, art and cinemas, integration of the sexes -- for the citizens of Kaduna:

God is most great!
God is most great!
I testify that there is no God but Allah.
I testify that Muhammad is the prophet of Allah.
Arise and pray, arise and pray.
God is great.
There is no God but Allah!

How calls to prayer can become calls to war. We must quickly concede that this is likewise true of the Lord's Prayer. "May thy kingdom come, may thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven," has inspired imperialistic violence from the followers of the crusading Christ of Constantinian expressions of Christendom.

Nigeria is a multireligious, democratic state.(5) Therefore, in response to the threat of Sharia, on February 21, 2000, Christians in Kaduna state, under the umbrella of the ecumenical Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), staged a peaceful demonstration at the State House of Assembly and Governor's House. It was a Kingian-style nonviolent march to protest the imposition of Sharia. As the march moved from the Governor's House to its conclusion, a number of Muslims who were offended by this public display of resistance began to attack the Christian marchers and several were killed. Many Christians retaliated and responded in kind and during the next few days the violence escalated across Kaduna. An EYN pastor, the Reverend Iyasco Taru, married with seven children, was assassinated in his parsonage when he refused to confess to his attackers, "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet."

I felt that I needed to visit Kaduna before I attempted to lecture at the Pastors' Synod on peace, pluralism, and religious tolerance. After all, Christian ethics is grounded in an incarnational theology, therefore, a poetics of place must inform all textual interpretation. Thus, in January of 2001, almost a full year after The Crisis, I found a city with large slices of destruction that still looked like a war zone in the aftermath of the clash of fighting gods. Entire neighborhoods had been "religiously cleansed."

In the remainder of this article, I want to explore a central question or problem that emerged during four intense days of theological conversations at the Pastor's Synod held on the campus of Kulp Bible College near the Nigeria-Cameroon border. The problem was stated pointedly by the EYN pastors: "How do we reconcile a Gospel of Peace with the violence of the life-world, indeed, with the violence of God?" However, before I examine this question, I want to briefly summarize three ancillary issues we worked on together at the synod in light of the call to peace and the reality of violence: the importance of strangers, the problem of purity, and the problem of totalitarianism.

The Importance of Strangers

There is a great temptation in any religion or spirituality to domesticate the Divine and thus make God our family, churchly, tribal or national deity. The genius of the Judeo-Christian tradition's representation of God is its insistence that God is both immanent and transcendent. God is indeed present yet God is "Other." In Christian thought and spirituality it may at times be quite appropriate to imagine Jesus as a friend and even sing these sentiments in songs of popular piety such as "What A Friend We Have in Jesus." Other times, however, it is important to be reminded that God comes to us as a stranger. The Nigerian pastors and I explored this tension together through the astonishing figure of the Hebrew Bible, Melchizedek.(6) He is presented as a prince of Salem, a prince of peace. He is a rather mysterious and distant figure, without genealogy, a stranger priest from the far country. He is not of the tribe or faith clan of Abraham. Yet he greets father Abraham carrying bread and wine. Not only does Abraham receive Melchizedek and commune with him; he also pays him a tithe! When the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews provides an extended commentary on the Melchizedek narrative, he likens Jesus to Melchizedek and contends that Jesus is more like this priest than a priest in the proper line of Levi and Aaron.

At times Jesus is indeed a friend. At other times he comes to us as a stranger priest from the far country. This legacy of the strangeness or otherness of God in the biblical tradition is undoubtedly one reason why the writer of the Hebrews exhorts his readers to treat strangers well, for in doing so, some have entertained angels unawares.

The Problem of Purity

We continue to live in a world of ethnic, ideological, and theological cleansings in quest of a kind of "purity." In my lectures for the synod I turned to several examples of this problem but perhaps most compelling to the EYN pastors was the work of Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf. Like these Nigerian pastors, Volf has seen too many of the terrors and tragedies of a politically and religiously driven ideology underwritten by claims of purity. His little book A Spacious Heart (co-authored with his spouse Judith) addresses this powerfully. He suggests that sin is not so much a defilement as it is a certain form of purity -- the exclusion of the other from one's heart and world. Volf turns to the story of the Prodigal Son. In this biblical narrative, the sinner was the older brother -- the one who withheld an embrace and expected exclusion. Volf writes, "Sin is a refusal to embrace others in their otherness and a desire to purge them from one's world, by ostracism or oppression, deportation or liquidation. . . The exclusion of the other is the exclusion of God."(7)

I told my Nigerian colleagues and friends about a striking sculpture on the campus where I teach. At the Earlham College Friends meetinghouse a sculpture of a woman solemnly greets worshippers as they approach the chapel. Her name is Mary Dyer. The bronze plate by artist Sylvia Shaw Judson reads: "Mary Dyer, Hanged on Boston Common, 1660." Dyer was a Quaker freethinker in Puritan Boston. When in dissent from Puritan theology, morality, and politics she declared, "Truth is my authority, not some authority my truth," she was hanged by the Puritan fathers for heresy. A terrible violence attaches itself to quests for purity.(8)

The Problem of Totalitarianism

Like the desire for purity, the longing for totality is likewise violent. Many Nigerian pastors were quite familiar with the story of the life, work, and witness of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. They admired his agonizing struggle of Christian conscience in the face of Nazism. They recognized his difficult choice as a pastor involved in the ecumenical peace movement to join the violent resistance to Hitler. Most saw this decision as a genuine dilemma of tragic necessity and faithful compromise reflecting what it meant to be a Christian and a man in a moment of profound historical horror and crisis. There was no attempt made by these pastors to baptize this individual decision as normative Christian ethics. Instead, it was understood more as an exceptional act of faithful compromise under God's grace in a blessed fallen world.

Drawing from my work on Bonhoeffer's theology and ethics, I suggested that this movement of resistance was made possible by Bonhoeffer's intellectual evolution from the purity of discipleship (Nochfolge) to an understanding of theology as polyphony.(9) Bonhoeffer spent a year in a black Baptist church in Harlem worshipping and serving as the youth group leader and teaching Sunday school. He also became well acquainted with the art, music, and literature of the Harlem Renaissance. As a classical pianist Bonhoeffer would have been familiar with the musical phenomenon of polyphony, but this was a musical style embodied daily in the life and in the jazz music of Harlem. A polyphony -- literally "many sounds" -- is not a symphony, neither is it a harmony. Instead, it is a musical piece in which two or more very different melody lines come together in a satisfying way. There is not an even harmony in polyphonous pieces but there is nevertheless a satisfying aesthetic coherence.

In his final writings, Letters and Papers from Prison, Bonhoeffer confesses in a letter to his dear friend Eberhard Bethge that he has finally come to understand theology, like the life-world of life from which it must come forth, as a polyphony. It is in these final writings that we see a shift in Bonhoeffer's thought from grounding theology in largely moral metaphors to locating it instead in musical metaphors. A polyphony resists the artificial harmonies of all totalistic systems and thus rejects all totalitarianisms, whether political or theological.

Even in a country as religious as Nigeria, where most Muslims, Christians, and animists take their faith quite seriously, religion's best hope for peace and prosperity is in a polyphonous, secular state. An increasing number of Christian pastors and theologians are concluding that the old heresy of "Constantinianism," whether of the Christian variety or of the Muslim variety, only incites violence toward the other through its implicit or explicit longings for totality.

The Gospel of Peace and the Violence of God

Let me turn now to a problem the pastors and I explored together with the most intensity during the synod. It is a problem, a dilemma, beyond the theological exposition of our response to strangers. It is a problem beyond the ethical criticism of the desire for purity. It is even a problem beyond the political critique of totalitarianism. It is truly a classic problem of "the Holy."

There is a great temptation in modern and late modern Christendom to tame and tutor the mystery of God and the terrors of nature with our favorite selected texts. We tend to edit and even censor texts that conflict with our needs or longings for a peaceful divinity and a friendly and harmonious creation.(10) This is especially tempting for those of us who are suburban or small-town theologians in North America. The trees are nicely trimmed, the lawns are well groomed, and God is a pacifist in Goshen, Bluffton, Richmond, North Newton, and Waterloo. It is different and otherwise in Kaduna, Kano, and Lagos. Thus, linking the gospel of peace to a notion of the benevolence of nature and the pacifism of God, as some contemporary Peace Church theologians are tempted to do, is unthinkable and unbelievable to most Nigerian pastors and theologians.

My engaging dialogues, and sometimes debates, with my Nigerian brethren invited me to again ponder a model of religious reflection I first encountered years ago in the classic work by the pietistic Lutheran, Rudolf Otto. His book Das Heilige, or The Idea of the Holy, is both a phenomenology of religious experience and an apologetics for a complex view of divinity that does not collapse the mystery of existence into rationality nor does it pretend that the experiential dimension at the heart of all religion can ever be completely conceptualized or moralized.(11) The holy or the numinous, for Otto, is beyond mere morality or philosophical argument and demonstration; it is an experience, a feeling (das numinose Gefühl), that must be encountered and evoked. Further, Otto insists that God's transcendence, das ganz Andere, cannot be fully known in God's immanent presence. This phenomenological description of religion in many ways echoes Luther's theology of the hidden and revealed God.(12) Even in revelation, indeed even in incarnation, there is something of the transcendent God that remains hidden.

Rudolf Otto's description of the holy is rather well known. The experience of the holy is described and developed in Otto's book as mysterium tremendum et fascinans. The tremendum is the awe-evoking, unapproachable, overpowering, transcendent, tremendous yet also terrifying presence of the divine. It is encountering God as wholly other. It is an encounter -- indeed a tremor -- that is not only spiritual but physical and psychological as well. The mysterium evokes not tremor as much as stupor: a silence and yieldedness before the divine mystery. The fascinans, on the other hand, carries with it the revelation of God's tender mercy, grace, and love. The holy, like the life-world, is never reducible to one attribute or limited by finite theological or theoretical descriptions. Infinity must never be collapsed into any finite totality. Das Heilige is mysterium tremendum et fascinans once and at the same time.

This idea of the holy could indeed be more important to ethical reflection than early phenomenologists of religion might have suspected. There is a striking suggestion of this in Jacques Derrida's funeral oration for Emmanuel Levinas. The Jewish philosopher Levinas, of course, is known for his understanding of ethics as a first principle: ethics before ontology, the state, or politics. Yet Derrida recalls an illuminating conversation with the philosopher in which Levinas declared, "You know, one often speaks of ethics to describe what I do, but really what interests me in the end is not ethics, not ethics alone, but the holy, the holiness of the holy."(13) The project of Levinas, because of this understanding of the holy or the infinite, seems not only to place ethics before and beyond ontology but also pushes thought and action toward an ethics beyond ethics. Thus, the idea of the holy "limits" all ethical, theological or political doctrines or dogmas.

The EYN Church and most of the Christianity I encountered in Nigeria had a much more profound sense of this "idea of the holy" than we Christians in North America seem to be at ease with in our theological imaginations.(14) In fact, this image of a tremendous and transcendent God is very difficult for many Peace Church pastors and theologians. We are comforted more by a God who is a lot like a Mennonite, Brethren or Quaker pacifist. We are happier when God is one thing, when the holiness, otherness, mystery, transcendence, and even terror of God are eclipsed by the politics of Jesus. We are tempted to substitute the wonder of a sacramental universe for a churchly ethics. More than one of my Nigerian brother-preachers said to me, "God is love but not a pacifist!"

Some years ago I was having a conversation with the Canadian Mennonite theologian James Reimer. We were talking about the work of John Howard Yoder, which we both admire, respect, and teach. As our conversation picked up momentum and passion, in what seemed like a whirlwind of emotion, Reimer declared, "Behold the Lamb indeed, but I fear there is no lion in Yoder's theology!"(15) Other Christian thinkers have struggled deeply with this problem of the gospel of peace and the violence of God.

In 1939 in New York City, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was praying and pondering about what direction his resistance to Hitler and European fascism might finally take. He had a conversation with the poet W. H. Auden.(16) We have no record of what was said in this conversation, but we do know Bonhoeffer and Auden discussed not only poetry but also international politics. Auden had been a pacifist but the rise of Hitler had him thinking otherwise and differently. He had been at work on a book exploring, among other things, the difficult images of the divine presented by the artist and mystical poet William Blake in his classic, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Blake asks a difficult but necessary question in his poem, "Tyger," "Did he who made the Lamb make thee?" This poetic question is addressed to the tiger and cannot be avoided by any honest theologian, "Did he who made the Lamb make thee?"

We of course know the answer is "yes," but what do we do with this understanding? James Reimer, Miroslav Volf, along with a number of Nigerian pastors and theologians, would suggest that it might serve us well, as people longing for peace, to dwell within the assertion that "God is love but not a pacifist."(17) To do so is not to perform a radical deconstruction of classical Christianity. On the contrary, these theological thinkers insist that such a confession returns us to the mystery of the Triune God, a God who is revealed but also hidden, transcendent and immanent, loving and terrifying. Consider James Reimer's description of this God:

This God is no Mennonite pacifist. This God is beyond all human ethical systems, beyond our rules of good and bad. This is the God one meets not in the living room but on the boundary, at the abyss, at the point where one is faced with the threat of non-being. Does this mean God the Creator is arbitrary, like the Greek and Roman Gods? No, the pagan arbitrariness is precisely what the Jews and the Christians rejected. God is not arbitrary -- God is just, righteous, good and loving, but in ways that are not fully transparent.(18)

Reimer writes that God's revelation through Jesus Christ is a revelation of this mystery. It is not a revelation of all that is hidden but rather the revelation of a mystery -- "the mystery that despite the reality of violence and evil in the world there is a moment of divine redemption and reconciliation in the cosmos."(19) Yet Reimer insists that God's means of achieving ultimate reconciliation of all things are not immediately evident to us.

More than a few members of the Historic Peace Churches worry that if we do not make God as ethically earnest as our most committed disciples and as theologically correct as our best theologians, then anything will be permitted in the moral universe! So, in this scenario, we tend to make God in our image and thus in the process make ourselves like God. Indeed, if we do not edit the biblical claim that "Yahweh is a warrior," will it not follow logically that God's servants will feel obligated to be like the divine and fight to the death on behalf of righteousness? Or unless we cleanse the Atonement of all traces of violence will we not feel compelled to sacrifice ourselves and perhaps even others for the causes of just wars or violent liberation movements?(20) Not necessarily. In fact, Miroslav Volf has suggested that the primordial temptation -- the desire to be like God -- may indeed be a far greater impetus for violence in the world.(21) Those of us in the Anabaptist tradition can testify to the history of terrible cruelty and emotional terrorism that emerged when the church via its leadership became a proxy for God in the process of disciplining the erring or dissenting member through shunning or the use of the "ban." The ban was an ecclesiastical sword that cut members off not only from the church but often from family, friends, and even from the source of one's livelihood. There is a great temptation in restorationist, primitivist or perfectionist religious movements to be "Godly" or even "God-like." Ah, but the Wholly Other still declares: "I saw Lucifer fall from the sky like lightening!"

Jim Reimer has wisely written: "Our commitment to the way of the cross (reconciliation) is not premised on God's pacifism or non-pacifism. It is precisely because God has the prerogative to give and take life that we do not have that right. Vengeance we leave up to God."(22) This is a theology of peacemaking that my Nigerian colleagues articulated and found compelling. It is a theology that refuses to domesticate the Infinite and it likewise reflects the spirit and the letter of the biblical witness.(23)

I would suggest that this understanding of God is not only good classical theology but also good psychology and spirituality for the work of conflict transformation and peacemaking in a blessed but fallen world. We will never completely escape the violence in our world or in ourselves. The violence is not only out there, it is in here; it is internal. Conversation with my Nigerian colleagues around this issue led me to consider in a new way the deep therapeutic value of imaginatively holding together the gospel of peace and the violence of God. Of course pop therapists who fill the terrifying shadows of the unconscious with glib and gleeful self-help books will see this proposal as "unhealthy." Likewise, theologians who cloak the dark night of the soul in a Jesus story that turns too quickly from the bloody tragedies of history and from the unapproachable, overpowering otherness of the divine to an easy ideological resolution of conflict will certainly reject this paradoxical and poetic intellectual therapy.

I will not quarrel with them. I will only ask them to join me in Kaduna to visit the widow of Reverend Taru and his seven fatherless children. We will walk by the terrible rubble of destroyed churches, mosques, schools, homes, and businesses. We will drive to the site of the largest Christian theological library in northern Nigeria, burned to the ground by Muslims during The Crisis, with only the charred spines of books now remaining. I will ask them to lean into their feelings, not only into their properly tutored thoughts of pacifism, but into the inescapable feelings of shock, sorrow, anger, outrage, judgment and perhaps even vengeance. These are feelings that come from souls conflicted by the paradoxical desire for love and justice and emerge naturally from psyches throbbing from the bodily chemicals and emotions of human aggression, judgment, and justice. These are elemental passions.

What are we to do with these intense, inescapable feelings? We could address and release these tensions by reaching for a sword. Or we might instead find a deep theological therapy through reflecting upon a rather terrifying revelation. I propose the latter. As we consider this astonishing revelation I propose that we ponder a very strange question as an exercise of deep theological therapy: Could it be that a theopoetic acknowledgement of the violence of the Hidden God might indeed transform the aggressive energies in the human psyche, soul, and body into active and nonviolent expressions of peacemaking on earth?

Consider the Revelation of St. John the Divine:

And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see. (Rev. 6:1)

And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony for which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? (Rev. 6:9-10)

And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the sayings of God. And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

And I saw heaven opened, and beheld a white horse; and he that sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dripped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.

And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great.

And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army.

And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These were both cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant was slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls of the air were filled with their flesh. AMEN. (Rev. 19)

I ask again a question I found disturbing yet also theologically and psychologically profound during my visit to Nigeria. Could it be that because Yahweh is a Warrior, we can be a people of peace?

 

Notes

1. [Back to text]  See Chalmer E. Faw, "Profile of Brethren Mission: An Evaluation of Fifty Years in Nigeria," Brethren Life and Thought 19, no. 2 (Spring 1974): 85-96.

2. [Back to text]  For a discussion of the EYN's understanding of its identity as a "peace church" in its West African context see Patrick K. Bugu, "Reconciliation or Pacifism? The Church of the Brethren in Nigeria." Forthcoming in the Proceedings from the Bienenberg Historic Peace Church Consultation.

3. [Back to text]  B. E. E. Bedki, The Tragedy of Sharia, Cry and the Voice of Masses: Kaduna Crisis from An Eye Witness (Jos, Nigeria: Distributed by the EYN Center, 2001).

4. [Back to text]  I of course don't mean to suggest here that "religion," whether fundamentalism or liberalism, is ever disentangled from economic, ethnic (tribal), political or other social realities. Indeed, the deplorable poverty and corrupt economic politics of contemporary Nigeria, where even a gallon of petrol must be bargained for on the black market in an extremely oil-rich nation, destroys public hope as it undermines even the most eloquent rhetoric about political democracy and thus fuels the fires of religious resentment and sectarian retreat. For an excellent treatment of contemporary Nigerian politics, economics, culture, and religion see Karl Maier, This House Has Fallen: Midnight in Nigeria (New York: BBS Public Affairs, 2000).

5. [Back to text]  For a helpful collection of essays and articles on political and cultural transition in Nigeria in particular and in Africa more generally see the work of Nigerian historian J. F. Ade. Ajayi, Tradition and Change in Africa (Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 2000).

6. [Back to text]  A more extended discussion of the significance of the Melchizedek narrative for Christology will appear in my forthcoming published lectures from Nigeria: Lafiya: A Wholeness without Harmony?

7. [Back to text]  Judith M. Gundry-Volf and Miroslav Volf, A Spacious Heart: Essays on Identity and Belonging (Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 1997), 49.

8. [Back to text]  The new work by Harvard sociologist Barrington Moore studies the human tendency to divide the pure "we" from the impure and polluting "other" or "enemy." Moore's investigation into why groups of people kill or torture each other concludes that there is a driving tendency for people to persecute those they perceive as polluting due to their "impure" religious, political or economic ideas. Barrington Moore, Moral Purity and Persecution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).

9. [Back to text]  See Scott Holland, "First We Take Manhattan, Then We Take Berlin: Bonhoeffer's New York," CrossCurrents 50, no. 3 (Fall 2001).

10. [Back to text]  The Summer 2001 issue of CrossCurrents is devoted to this problem. Jewish and Christian thinkers reflect upon not only the problem of religion and violence, but also upon the more difficult and disturbing problem of violence in religion. The special issue is titled, "A Hell in Heaven's Despite: Collisions of Religion and Violence." CrossCurrents 51, no. 2 (Summer 2001).

11. [Back to text]  Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-Rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and Its Relation to the Rational (New York: Oxford University Press, 1923; reprint, 1975). For a very fine recent study of Otto's classic text see Gregory D. Alles, "Toward a Genealogy of the Holy: Rudolf Otto and the Apologetics of Religion," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 69, no. 2 (June 2001): 223-341.

12. [Back to text]  David Tracy has returned to a consideration of Luther's Hidden God as well as to the apophatic mystics as a way to reimagine and rethink the implications of God-talk in a postmodern, post-Holocaust world. See Tracy, "The Hidden God: The Divine Other of Liberation," Cross Currents 46, no. 1 (Spring 1996): 3-16. Also see David Tracy's "The Post-Modern Naming of God as Incomprehensible and Hidden," CrossCurrents 50, nos. 1-2 (Spring-Summer 2000): 240- 47.

13. [Back to text]  Jacques Derrida, "Adieu: Emmanuel Levinas," in Martin McQuillan, ed., Deconstruction: A Reader (New York: Routledge, 2000), 478.

14. [Back to text]  It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss how the Nigerian awareness of "the holy" impacts their hermeneutics of the life-world, nature or creation. However, it should be noted that the same sense of both wonder and terror present in their understanding of God, not surprisingly, is also reflected in their theology of the life-world. Few American or European experiments in "ecological theology" have been able to capture this dual sense of both aesthetic awe and emotional terror in the life-world. Our poets and writers do much better. I'm thinking especially of the lovely but violent portrayals of nature and the divine in Annie Dillard's Holy the Firm and The Living. The new novellas of Maureen Howard likewise capture nature's song and violence. In Big As Life: Three Tales for Spring (New York: Viking, 2001), Howard takes us into the life of John James Audubon, the famous painter and birder who found it necessary to kill birds for his art. Howard recalls how as a sixteen-year-old girl looking at Audubon's Birds of America in the Bridgeport Public Library she discovered "an ardor brought to information of feathers, claws, beaks, flight, color, to song and violence, which was my natural world too, though I hadn't known it."

15. [Back to text]  In recent correspondence with James Reimer he alerted me to the special issue of Conrad Grebel Review devoted to the work of John Howard Yoder where he takes up this critique in a more formal way. See vol. 16, no. 2 (Spring 1998). It should also be noted that the journal recently devoted a special issue to the work of Miroslav Volf. See vol. 18, no. 3 (Fall 2000).

16. [Back to text]  For more on this Bonhoeffer-Auden exchange see my "First We Take Manhattan, Then We Take Berlin: Bonhoeffer's New York" (cited above).

17. [Back to text]  This statement, "God is love but not a pacifist," was made by several EYN pastors during my visit to Nigeria along with other assertions like, "God's love and judgments are violent even if we are commanded to practice peace. Thus, we must remember that we are not God." Canadian theologian A. James Reimer has also written that "God is Love but Not a Pacifist," in his Mennonites and Classical Theology: Dogmatic Foundations for Christian Ethics (Kitchner, Ontario: Pandora Press, 2000; Waterloo, Ontario: Herald Press, 2000), 486-92.

18. [Back to text]  Ibid., 492.

19. [Back to text]  Ibid.

20. [Back to text]  I am thinking here of the constructive challenge of "a nonviolent atonement" presented by my friend J. Denny Weaver in his new book, The Nonviolent Atonement (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001).

21. [Back to text]  Volf made this provocative comment during a personal conversation in November 2000 when he was lecturing at Bethany Theological Seminary and Earlham School of Religion. He begins to address this problem in the final chapter of his book Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity (Nashville: Abingdon Press 1996).

22. [Back to text]  Reimer, Mennonites and Classical Theology, 492.

23. [Back to text]  I am grateful for conversations with New Testament scholar Tom Yoder Neufeld at the Bienenberg meetings around this tension of the gospel of peace and the violence of God. His work supports my claim that this tension is present not only in the biblical texts but also in the early Peace Church readings of classical Christianity. See his interesting study, Put on the Armour of God: The Divine Warrior from Isaiah to Ephesians (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997). First Testament scholar Millard Lind likewise addresses this tension in his work, Yahweh Is a Warrior (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1980).

 

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Source: Cross Currents, Winter 2002, Vol. 51,  No 4.