Kingdom Living

The Myth That Redemptive Violence is a Myth: Part 1

August 9th, 2012 · 41 Comments · Christianity, Culture

The Huffington Post recently published an article by Lee Camp (professor at David Lipscomb University) entitled Batman, Neo-Nazis and the Good News of Jesus Christ. In what is a masterfully titled article Camp says the following,

“But what those conversations fail to do — what supposedly conservative Christians fail to do — is question what hardly anyone questions: namely, the myth of redemptive violence.

This myth divides the world into the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” and then assumes the legitimacy of employing warring and violence against the “bad guys.” Violence is the mechanism by which the good guys believe that they will win. It is a deep faith — a killing faith — in the saving efficacy of killing.

This myth so deeply pervades our culture it has become the water in which we swim, the air that we breathe, the dirt in which we worm our way through hatred and animosity. It is a conviction so deep that it transcends left and right, liberal and conservative.”

Camp’s point is that if we can brand ourselves the good guy and those we wish ill upon the bad guy then it is easy to justify using violence to bring an end to those we disagree with. It is a good point. It is a valid point. Honestly, I think he is on to something that is pervasive in our society and problematic among Christians. But that information does not lead to the conclusion that violence is always used in such a way as described in his article. What I am hearing Camp and others say underlying all of this is that since they believe violence is never redemptive there is never a place for violence no matter what the motive. Maybe I am just reading that into it, someone correct me if I am hearing that wrong.

Before I say anything else I want to say I have a great respect for Dr. Camp and the counter-cultural voice he is in our society. I appreciate that. If you haven’t read his piece or this piece by Rex you really should. We have grown such a sensitivity to disagreement in our culture that somehow people think if you disagree with someone you must hate them or think they are crazy. For the record, what I am about to write is not personal…it is just a disagreement of ideas and I am completely open to listen to anyone who thinks I am wrong.

Violence is not always selfish. Violence is not always making some guy you already hate out to be the phony bad guy so you can squash him or smash him or shoot him. There are situations in life when innocent people are harmed and something has to be done about it. The loving response is to protect the innocent. We aren’t talking about cowboys and indians, batman and joker…we are talking real life here. Let me give you an example from my life. Ten years ago I was home from college for the summer and my family went into a gas station. Some men came in and began yelling at the cashier. She looked scared. Honestly, we were scared too. These guys were harsh, angry and up to no good. The majority of my family has had conceal carry permits over the years and several of us had firearms with us. We weren’t going to brandish any weapons unless things got crazy but we also weren’t just going to leave her there to get killed either. So we waited in the store to at least let our presence be known. Finally the three men decided they didn’t want any witnesses to what they were about to do so they left. We spoke with the cashier and she told us that several years prior these men had robbed her store and she had turned them in. They had just gotten out of jail and decided to come back for her. She believed we saved her life. I cannot tell you how thankful she was. No shots were fired but I can tell you we would have felt justified, even before God, to protect this innocent lady if it had come to that.

If we want to theorize about all of this we could analyze this assuming redemptive violence is a myth, therefore, no violence is ever justified under any condition. We could say God wants the innocent protected but not if it takes violence because violence is never redemptive. If that was our view and those guys had started shooting I might not be typing this post today. You see, this is all good in theory but the reality is there are innocent people out there…we don’t wish for it but there are times someone has to stand in the gap. This is self-sacrificial love because it is easier to leave someone to die than it is to stand up for them.

In the real world it is not all cowboys and indians labels that we use to frame all the evil things we want to do out of selfish ambition. Now that is the difference here. The kind of violence Camp and others are railing against is the use of self proclaimed labels of good and bad that then justify our doing whatever we wanted to do in the first place. I believe it is entirely possible to use violence out of love: a love for the innocent, a love for one’s family, and even a love for strangers.

There is so much more I could say on this but are you tracking with me or am I way off base on this one?

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41 Comments so far ↓

  • Mark

    I’m with you. Deontological approaches to ethics are superior to utilitarianism in general, but there are some times when there are principles in conflict which do not allow us the option of choosing “right or wrong”, but rather the best of several unfortunate options. Utilitarianism run amuck leads to all sorts of arrogance and poor decisions, but sometimes it is a necessary component of navigating the ethical waters of the human experience. I believe sometimes good people must do difficult things for the greater good.

  • Jerry Starling

    As you note above, to disagree is not to hate. I admire you for what you are. Yet, I fail to see what would have been redemptive about violence in the scenario in which your family had a passive role? Would it have redeemed those making the threats? Would it have redeemed the cashier? Would it have been redemptive to those of your family who would have (if things had developed differently) brandished guns, and presumably been willing to use them? Like you, I would have been willing to use violence in that situation if I had the power to do so – but I hesitate to call that violence redemptive.

    The only redemptive violence that I know is redemption by the one who was violated on a cross at Golgotha. And He was not the violent one, but was the Prince of Peace.

    • mattdabbs

      Great questions and points Jerry. I have wrestled with all of that myself. I was going to save this point for a later post but I will go ahead and put it out there because it helps answer your question about how those actions themselves would have been redemptive. Before I say it I want you to be aware that I am totally open to you telling me that I have still missed the point or that I have made up my mind first and then am backing up my conclusions however I can…I don’t feel I am doing that but I am open to listen to criticism and critique on this.

      Think about the story of Ruth for a moment. Ruth was redeemed by Boaz but by our own standards and preconceived ideas about redemption that is not the first thing that comes to mind with Ruth because we see redemption as relating completely to salvation. There is more to redemption than ultimate salvation. In the case of Ruth there were customs/laws that allowed her deceased husbands blood line to be continued through a kinsman redeemer (Boaz). It had nothing to do with salvation. It had everything to do with bringing her justice, deliverance, full life, and rising up her status so that she would not be mistreated as a widow by those who would potentially take advantage of her vulnerability.

      Now take the store clerk. She is an innocent bystander going about making a living, offering a service, etc. Here come the guys who wish to do her harm and someone sticks around to make sure she is protected and cared for. The parallel is that word “redemption” has to do with deliverance, either from sin or from someone who is out to do you harm. Often in scripture redemption/deliverance is from humans/enemies. God often uses real people to bring about that deliverance (even in violent ways).

      By the way the word for kinsman redeemer is “goel” which can mean anything from someone who redeems someone to someone who avenges a wrong done to someone else. I hope that brings some clarity to what I am trying to say here. This may show up as Part 2 🙂 I would love to hear your feedback.

    • mattdabbs

      One point I left out is that we conclude it cannot be redemptive because we don’t see how it leads to salvation but, as I said in the preceding comment, redemption is not always for the purposes of salvation. That is the mistake made in these discussions is using the word redemption in the narrowest of senses and completely missing the rest of the ways scripture does view some violence as redemptive in nature. You just have to have a biblically informed view of redemption in all its facets. Hope that makes sense. Thoughts?

      • James Wood

        Another way to approach the discussion is to affirm the narrow definition of ‘redemption,’ and affirm that there is no such thing as ‘redemptive violence’ but to also affirm that not every action must lead to redemption. If redemptive action is removed from the list of options by the wrong-doing of others, then protection of the innocent must happen.

        If I can protect the innocent without violence I will. But if I have to resort to violence, for the sake of the innocent, I’ll do it.

        I’ve heard Camp speak before and I’ve yet to be satisfied with how he deals with the violence of the Old Testament.

  • justinmundie

    Matt –

    There was a time when I agreed with what you say here, but I’ve since been convicted, by Lee, and others, otherwise.

    Violence, as I understand it, is the ultimate idolatry in that we are putting ourselves into the place of God. We decide who is innocent. We decide whose life is most important. We decide who gets to live and who gets to die. It’s my opinion, that that is not our place.

    While I understand the instinct to protect the innocent, or those we love, we are called to love our enemies just as much. And if that is the case, we must do everything in our power to resist violence and protect those who are being victimized, not through use of force, but through trust in God, through prayer, and by putting our own lives on the line, laying down our lives for the benefit of not just the victim, but the perpetrator. We do so because that is the witness we were shown by Christ, who called us to take up our crosses, to lay down our lives for even our enemies. It is in that kind of act of love that the curtain is pulled back, and all can see the grace that we ourselves have been shown.

    We are all complicit in the evil in this world. None of us are “innocent” in the broadest sense. You and I have benefitted from a social and economic system that probably failed the robbers in this situation. And when we decide who lives and dies, not only are we putting ourselves in the place of God, but we are acting as though the ultimate outcome is purse to make right. We are not leaving room for God to break in and change people’s hearts. Violence is always a testament to the brokeness of the world – that human beings believe one life is more important than another, or more accurately, that our life is more important than another.

    That beig said – while I live in the inner city, and statistically am more likely than others to be involved in a violent crime; I still don’t know how I would respond if I felt my life or my wife and daughter lives were in immediate danger. I might respond violently. But I pray daily, and attempt to let the spirit shape me into one who can find creative ways to diffuse violent situations, as well as be a person who can forgive seemingly unfair violence and death to my family and friends.

    • mattdabbs


      I really appreciate what you are saying here. I need to read it over a few times before I respond in more detail. The question it raises in my mind is this, “Is violence always evil?” I don’t believe you can conclude that violence is always evil. I can say that because there are times God commands violence to be used. God will not command his people to do evil or sin. So there are times when violence is used for God’s purposes. We aren’t always good enough or smart enough to know when those times are but I would say some times are more obvious than others. What makes it obvious is not a political agenda but a heart that is seeking the well being of the innocent and helpless.

      My question for pacificsts is whether or not they would ever dial 911 in dangerous situations. If you don’t believe in violence why call the police to come and shoot someone for you because that is what they are likely to do when they arrive. If you are fully committed to pacifism you should give up on the police if it seems they may have to use force to resolve a given situation.

      Those are just a few of my thoughts…I hope that is helpful. Let me consider what you have written some more and I will get back in more detail soon.

      • wjcsydney

        I’ve called the police when there was an intruder in my home. In Australia they are unlikely to shoot. I wanted the guy apprehended, not hurt.

        • Jerry Starling

          Contrary to popular TV shows, police in this country do not respond with guns blazing every time they respond to a 9-1-1 call for help either. Their first action is to attempt to apprehend, not to shoot. If shooting occurs it is because of something done by the intruder. Unless it is a rogue cop, which is a very small minority of the peace officers.

    • mattdabbs

      and thanks for taking the time to write such a well thought out and lengthy comment.

    • K. Rex Butts

      “Violence, as I understand it, is the ultimate idolatry in that we are putting ourselves into the place of God. We decide who is innocent. We decide whose life is most important. We decide who gets to live and who gets to die. It’s my opinion, that that is not our place.”

      I’ve never heard that before but that gives me something to think about. Thanks!

    • Jerry Starling

      This is a great statement of what I was trying to say above. Matt, please take justinmundie’s comment as my reply to your comment in response to my comment above.

  • mattdabbs

    James…well said. There are times in scripture where redemption involves two parties. One party is redeemed via judgment on the other, offending party. So God redeems his people from Egypt or from Assyria or Babylon and in doing so brings judgment on the other nation. People talk like redemption is always for both parties when that is clearly not what we see across the board in scripture.

    • James Wood

      I’m more in line with what Rex describes here – I’m not a strict pacifist.

      If I was drafted, I would mostly likely have to object (or become a chaplain). I think ‘just war’ is rarely anything but an oxymoron.

      But in the face of overwhelming evil destroying innocents, I can’t deny the rightness of it. Hitler had to be stopped. Sure, he was a product of the socio-political system of Europe after WWI that made Germany the whipping boy. Sure, the US benefited from selling arms to both sides during the Great War and were complicit in the circumstances that led to WWII.

      But in the end it was genocide that had to be stopped. They tried diplomacy and it failed. Fighting the Germans in WWII was just and necessary. I’d say, though, that the conflict with Japan was much further from a clear definition of just war.

      I can’t help but wonder, though, what those who survived the holocaust thought about the violence done by the Allies. Was it redemptive?

      • mattdabbs

        What Rex is saying resonates with me to some degree. I still have a lot to think about on this and I appreciate the conversation.

      • Jerry Starling

        Tim Archer ( has had several posts recently and another series some time back on pacifism. He has links to a neo-anabaptist site (I’m not on my computer or I’d provide the link here) where the question is asked “Was WWII necessary?” Tim points out that “just war” theory demands, not only that the cause of the war be just, but that the means of fighting it also be just. That means that “colateral damage” be minimized, which it was not in WWII – witness the fire-bombing of civilian populations in Germany and Japan and the use of nuclear weapons in Japan. Those tactics were guaranteed to harm civilian populations, hence it is difficult to justify them, even under Augustine’s just war theory. Until the 4th century AD, Christians refused to fight. It was only after the union of church and state under Constantine that the Church began to look at war favorably. In the early days of the Stone/Campbell Movement, we were pacifist. This changed with WWII. I knew people in my youth who had served time in CO camps (virtually concentration camps) instead of serving in the armed forces. My initial draft status was 1A-O, which meant non-combatant service only. In the Vietnam era, many claimed CO status simply because they thought that war was unjust. This is not the same as true pacifism.

        Would I call 911 in a dangerous situation? Abosultely, based on Romans 13. Though governments often abuse their God-given powers, they are given to us to maintain at least a modicum of civil society instead of having “every man do that which is right in his own eyes.” As agents of government, the police are given power to bear the sword “not in vain.” I suppose you could argue (legitimately) that one who is licensed to “carry concealed” is also authorized to act in self-defence situations. However, it would have to be an extreme situation (a berzerk maniac shooting people indiscriminately would be an example) for it to be justified. From that extreme, it becomes more and more difficult to justify. “Stand your ground,” law here in Florida becomes very nebulous. To me, retreat is better than violence in most situations. The situation Matt described in his post could very well be a justified use of violence. However, in that instance a non-violent stance defused the situation without having to brandish guns. I suspect that similar non-violence will do more to defuse tense situations that most people today are willing to admit. “Non-violence” here also means calm, quiet language instead of threatening speech or action.

  • K. Rex Butts


    You are right that two or more Christians can disagree without hating and speaking ill of each other. Also, thanks for linking to my post as well as contributing to this important but difficult issue with your own post.

    I don’t describe myself as a strict pacifist, even though I almost entirely reject the notion of a just-war. The reason I don’t describe myself as a strict pacifist is because I don’t believe we can take all scenarios where violence could be an option, lumping them all together and then make a blanket ethical affirmation as to how we should proceed. In other words, a nation invading another nation is a different situation than an assailant attacking a person in the park. Likewise, catching a terrorist in the actual act of mayhem is a different situation than learning a week later the identity of a terrorist who committed an act of mayhem in the past and those different situations should call for different discernment.

    Personally, I am sympathetic towards the use of necessary violence to stop the assailant in the park doing any further harm to individual X. On the other hand, I see very little, if any, place for using violence to serve the political interests of the kingdoms (nations) of this world, including American interests. Hypothetically, one can make the case that a war is justified when something like genocide is being committed. But I think the governments of our world, including the US, have used that to justify war-making that is really motivated by selfish political/power interests (I know, that’s another issue). But even though I grant that there may be a few occasions which necessitate a limited use of violence, I do not support the doctrine of just war because it is a theory carved not from the scripture and the gospel (how we bear witness to Jesus) but from the question of how we serve the state (can we really serve two kingdoms/master?).

    Nevertheless, I believe rather than beginning with the hairy ethical dilemmas or the question of deontological vs. utilitarian ethics in the philosophical realm, I suggest that we begin with the question of “how do we live out the story of Jesus whom we are called to follow so that we are living out the Bible story we are part of?” To do this we must know what beliefs and values were at the foundation of Jesus’ life. Once we answer that question (which is not a simple answer) then we have a clear picture of the life we are to live. Even more, then we can best assess the questions, concerns, and consequences in the many different ethical dilemmas we encounter.

    As for my post, it was more aimed at explaining the hermeneutic behind the issue. That is in hope of ending some of the rather terrible ways some Christians proof-text the Bible in order to justify almost any form of violence.

    Grace and Peace,


  • ocstir

    Matt –

    With regards to God and the violence, there are multiple ways to deal with it. I would say we have to interpret the old testament through the lense of Jesus, who is the most full revelation of God to man. Jesus chose to die for his enemies rather than kill them (and who would be most able to sort out the weeds from the wheat besides Jesus) and that was the mystical means by which God reconciles all things to himself. And
    Jesus himself calls us to deny ourselves, take up our Cross and follow him.

    Secondly – even looking at the violence in the old testament, we must look at the means by which God accomplished his purposes. Marching around cities and blowing trumpets, keeping Moses’s arms up in the air, or Gideon’s tiny group – god was making it abundantly clear to his people that they were not doing anything. It was God doing it all. And further down the line, David was denied permission to build the temple because he had blood on his hands.

    Additionally – I’ve never had a circumstance where God told me to kill someone. If he did, I’d hope I’d question whether or not it was God given what I know about Jesus.

    Regarding calling 911 – it would not be my first move. But Romans 13 does make clear that God institutes the powers for policing purposes. I don’t believe Christians should serve in positions where violence is a part of their job. But the police do serve a legitimate purpose of keeping order.

    But let me give a personal example. I came home one day and noticed a conflict involving a friend of mine. This friend is transient, and has had quite a rough life. He and another guy had gotten into an argument, thrown a few punches, my friend was trying to
    Leave, but the other guy wasn’t finished.

    My friend asked for a ride, and I could hear the fear in his voice. I said ok, and as he apprOached, the other guy came at us with a knife. I stood there and told him he needed to stop. We got in the car and were leaving. The other guy followed us, cut me off and caused me to rear end him. He got out of the car and started yelling. When it became clear he wasn’t going to stop following us, I decided I’d drive to the police station, and give him the opportunity to make the decision for himself how he wanted the situation to end. He chose to follow us into the police parking lot, and continued trying to assault us while police had their guns drawn on him.

    So will I get the police involved? Yes. Is it my first reaction? No.

    • mattdabbs


      You wrote,

      “Secondly – even looking at the violence in the old testament, we must look at the means by which God accomplished his purposes. Marching around cities and blowing trumpets, keeping Moses’s arms up in the air, or Gideon’s tiny group – god was making it abundantly clear to his people that they were not doing anything”

      God did use them to kill people. They had to actually pick up swords and kill people with them face to face. It was nasty I am sure. God was ensuring the victory, sure but that brings up a second point. God killed people too. God even instigated confusion that resulted in people killing each other. Now, one can make the point that God can kill whom he likes and that God will make a better decision in regard to that than we will. I get that. That doesn’t diminish the fact that God did tell people to do violent acts toward others. Now, they did directly have God telling them to do it and that is the difference between them and ourselves.

      One thing I want to look into more are the hospitality regulations and expectations in Israel. I am under the impression that if someone was under your roof they were to be protected by you. I will have to do some digging on that one. Anyone looked at that or thought about that?

    • mattdabbs

      Here is Joshua 8:20ff…notice that God certainly was fighting for them but that doesn’t mean all the violence was relegated purely the hand of God.

      “20 The men of Ai looked back and saw the smoke of the city rising up into the sky, but they had no chance to escape in any direction; the Israelites who had been fleeing toward the wilderness had turned back against their pursuers. 21 For when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that smoke was going up from it, they turned around and attacked the men of Ai. 22 Those in the ambush also came out of the city against them, so that they were caught in the middle, with Israelites on both sides. Israel cut them down, leaving them neither survivors nor fugitives. 23 But they took the king of Ai alive and brought him to Joshua.

      24 When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and in the wilderness where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword, all the Israelites returned to Ai and killed those who were in it. 25 Twelve thousand men and women fell that day—all the people of Ai. 26 For Joshua did not draw back the hand that held out his javelin until he had destroyed[a] all who lived in Ai.”

      If I had an evil intent in this I would read those verses and relish them. I don’t. I do know that God told them to do that and they did it and somehow that fit into God’s redemptive purposes. I don’t claim to understand it all but that is what it says. So we can say God was the one doing the fighting but not to the exclusion of the biblical account of who God used and how they did it.

      • justinmundie

        Matt –

        I am not married to the idea that everything that is written in the old testament is “fact” in the modern understanding, or that everything attributed to God necessarily was. So that’s my bias in the conversation. I don’t think that means that the Bible isn’t inspired – it is Gods truth brought to us by a community that was doing their best to work out their relationship with God and the world. Some would disagree with me there – but that’s where I am at this time.

        But back to the point of reading the old testament through the lense of Christ, if Jesus is our fullest representation of who God is ( and I don’t think we disagree there) I think at the very least it should give us pause when we read some
        Of the things that are attributed to God in the old testament.

        But that all being out aside, if God tells you to kill someone, I think that’s an entirely different situation than you making that decision on your own. And beyond that, I’m not certain how killing ones enemies is compatible with loving them. And therein for me, is the ultimate rub. I can’t imagine that, we’re my daughter about to kill someone, that I would kill my daughter. I would do everything including giving up my own life, to save her. And I think we’re called to do that for all people, because we can never fall prey to the idea that some are beyond the power of God to be redeemed. And if we believe in the resurrection, the fear of losing our lives, which is at the heart of violence, no longer determines our actions. For me, that’s why the passion is so powerful. Jesus was righteous, fully human, expecting, but not knowing with certainty that he would be raised, yet he fulfilled all righteousness in laying down his own life, dying for us while we were still his enemies.

  • justinmundie

    Btw – that last post was not ocstir. I’m not sure how it automatically logged me into that account after being logged in under my name.

    My opinions are mine, and certainly not those of the young adults ministry at otter creek.

  • mokus

    I have no problem with guns or the use of them to prevent worse evils. I do, however, think that the average American is not responsible or prudent enough to carry such an instrument. When I was in Israel a few years back and every 18 year old guy and girl were carrying fully automatic weapons I felt much safer than much of anywhere in the U.S. For me, it comes down to responsibility, solemnity, and commonsense. Our culture, here in the west, has on average lost its right to handle such grave instruments. Leave’em to the authorities.

    Now you, Matt, and your friends I’m sure are responsible. My issue is with extending your liberty to the ‘average’ guy/girl in today’s world…

    If you think our culture is basically good, that is, prudent/wise, then I retract my statement. But if you think our culture is sliding from perhaps better times, then I ask you to think carefully about the effect of our ‘liberties’…

  • Jerry Starling

    In looking at the violence in the OT, remember that God was judging the nations – and that He often used one (evil) nation to judge another, without justifying them in doing so because evil was also in the heart of the one God used. See Isa 10:5-16. As for Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, consider also Genesis 15:16. God delayed His judgment on the Amorites (one of the Canaanite nations) “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” IOW, He was giving them time to repent. When they did not, He destroyed them through Israel, as well as through direct actiion as Israel observed hail that killed more than they did in battle.

    • mattdabbs

      Let me respond to a few points that have been made:

      God doesn’t just use evil people to judge/kill evil people:
      Jerry is making the point that God used evil people to kill or bring judgment on other evil people. You wrote…”In looking at the violence in the OT, remember that God was judging the nations – and that He often used one (evil) nation to judge another, without justifying them in doing so because evil was also in the heart of the one God used.”

      I know you realize it wasn’t always evil guys against evil guys. God commanded the conquest of Canaan and it wasn’t stipulated on the Hebrews getting themselves evil before they did it. In fact, the stipulation was often just the opposite…God told them repeatedly in Deuteronomy the stipulation for conquering the promised land was them being obedient to the law (ritual purity, etc). It would not be accurate to say that God only used evil people to bring judgment on evil people in scripture. Quite the opposite in some instances…God expected his people to be holy in order to expect success in conquering enemies.

      If these accounts are not historical, what point are they really making?
      Justin had said above that these accounts are not really historical and so he doesn’t think we can draw all these conclusions from them. Let’s say he is right. Let’s say they are just written to make a point but we aren’t really to think these things actually happened or at least that the details we have really happened. I would take issue with that as it seems to me these accounts are quite thoroughly recorded as historical events and understood by other inspired men in scripture to be historical events. The Jewish tradition is that these events really took place. What ends up happening is when events in scripture don’t fit our tastes or we don’t know how to reconcile the events in a systematic way with other truths of scripture we have a problem that we have to try to reconcile. As I see it there are two ways to try to reconcile that issue. 1) You can say it wasn’t meant to be historical and that for thousands of years interpretation those before us missed the boat on that and we just now figured that out. To be fair, allegorical interpretations were pretty popular at some point in early Christianity but I am under the impression that they were still drawing allegories from what they believed were actual events. 2) You can remember that God’s ways are higher than our own and his thoughts are higher than our own and so it is not necessary for my comfortability or ability to systematize things into a nice tight whole to be the standard for truth. It is entirely possible that all these events are perfectly historical and factual and that God did things that don’t always make sense to us. We know he does that…there is precedent for that and we should be humble enough to admit that is within the realm of possibility when it comes to these issues.

      But let’s say that the events in the OT weren’t actually factual but were written to make an impression on us…what impression then do we conclude from the events of war and conquest in the OT? What exactly was God trying to teach us by passing those stories down to us today? What general principles do we pull and don’t we pull from those non-historical accounts?

    • mattdabbs


      I also wanted to mention the 911 situation. I can’t find consistency for a pacifist to call 911. If you have a moral objection to the use of violence, why call the guy with the gun to come get you out of trouble? When the Police come they are going to use whatever force is necessary to maintain your safety. Calling 911 in a situation that has a high degree of danger is like saying violence is justified only if it is done by a hired hand in order to protect me. If violence is wrong, it is wrong. If there is a time it is justified then there isn’t any room left for a full out pacifist position of declaring all violence as evil. I hope that makes sense. I didn’t elaborate on that previously. As always, feel free to disagree. I really do read these posts and I really am open to learn from you all. There is nothing that drives me crazier when someone isn’t really listening or personally open to change and so you just get a group of guys yelling past each other.

      • Jerry Starling


        I never said God *only* used evil people to punish others. As you observe, He also used his faithful servants (such as Joshua and David) – but what they did, they did in response to God’s Instructions.

        Nor do I believe that I am *necessarily* consistent in calling 911. I stated what I would likely do, not necessarily what is best to do in following Jesus. However, I do note that Paul appealed to Caesar, not for Caesar to violently rescue him from the Jews, but to protect himself from the Jewish plots. Sometimes such a rescue *might* involve violence (e.g., it was entirely possible a few people got pushed around when Paul was rescued from the Jews by the Romans in Acts 21). Since cops usually do not come into a tense situation with guns blazing – at least not until they can asses the situation and see what is necessary – calling 911 is not necessarily a call for violence. It is a call for higher authority to take over the situation. If the assailant persists in violence then, whose fault is that?


  • this went thru my mind |

    […] * Batman, Neo-Nazis and the Good News of Jesus by Lee C. Camp [required reading]; * The Myth That Redemptive Violence is a Myth: Part 1 by Matt Dabbs [read the comments, […]

  • mattdabbs

    I want to be really clear to everyone who is reading this about one thing. I am certainly not promoting or endorsing a culture of violence. There is a difference between creating a culture of violence and saying there are moments in life that God allows, even endorses violent actions to take place (Rom 13 clearly teaches those times exist).

    I am noticing two things in this discussion. Almost unequivocally what is being shared in the comments is saying that most of you believe you would be open to the use of violence in some situations by someone (either yourself or the government). That alone tells me that violence is not always 100% evil unless all of us are just missing the point and justifying ourselves to do evil. Even if you are just saying the government should be able to do it, which by the way is 100% biblical (Rom 13) then on some level there are situations that call for violence that are condoned by God himself.

    The question I have about Romans 13 is how can God endorse something (use of the sword by the government) to do something that runs counter to his very nature (loving all people unconditionally)? In other words, people say violence is always evil with no exception and yet God tells the state that he has given them authority to use the sword…how then, if violence is evil with no exception can God authorize the state to do something that by its very nature is evil? Can someone help me see a path through that one from a pacifist/non-violent perspective?

    Second, everyone is pointing to the example of Jesus. There was at least one moment in Jesus’ life where Jesus was so outraged by the abuse he was seeing that it moved him to take violent actions against the abusers. I am talking about when he drove the money changers from the temple. Sure Jesus defused all sorts of situations by talking them through it. I think that is always best if that can work. My very example in the original post was how all it took in one instance for those men to harm that woman was our very presence. Because we are people who are called to love that is our first response. But the example of Jesus shows us that there are times when words are not enough. Did Jesus shoot anyone? Of course not. But Jesus’ actions show us that words and loving kindness were not the only means he employed to show people the seriousness of the evil in their hearts.

    This is all a very difficult topic and I appreciate the insights of godly men and women coming together to try to find a way to work through this discussion.

  • mokus

    Romans 13 is slightly ironic in the context of the early church, for Rome wasn’t exactly on the side of Christians. Paul, writing in light of the cross, sees clearly that the tools of justice can be used unjustly but that as Christians we submit to injustice, as Christ submitted. We let evil consume itself. We don’t arm ourselves with the right to bear arms in case we need to oust a tyrannical regime.

    When it comes to owning guns and the use of violence, I’m a little more paradoxical. I think the phrase ‘a time to kill, a time to heal’, while not prescriptive, is existentially true. The hard pacifist argument can also lead to injustice, a lack of love, a refusal to do what is right at the right moment. I just don’t think you can make a rule about it.

    But I stand firm that I think it is a imprudent idea to defend the right to bear arms in our current culture. I trust my neighbor with a gun about as much as I trust my 4 year old with the car keys.

  • Jerry Starling

    One thing that is often overlooked in our thinking about Romans 13 is that it follows hard on Paul’s statement at the end of Romans 12.

    Live in harmony with one another…. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengenance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:16-21, ESV)

    Without a chapter/verse break in the original text, Paul continues:

    Let every person be subject to the governing authorities…. he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. (Romans 13:1, 4-5)

    It is the governing authority as an instrument of God’s wrath that causes us to submit to that authority. At times (most times?), the governing authority has no concept of God’s justice or wrath. Yet, in an imperfect way, they administer God’s wrath on the evil doer. At times, they also injustly administer their own wrath on the righteous, because they are not conscious of doing God’s will at all. This was the situation in Isaiah 10:5-7.

    Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like th mire of the streets. But he does not so intend, and his heart does not so think; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few….

    Later in this chapter, Isaiah continues:

    Shall the axe boast over him sho hews with it, or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it? As if a rod should wield him who lifts it, or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood! Therefore the Lord GOD of hosts will send wasting sickness among his stout warriors, and under his glory a burning will be kindles, like the burning of fire. (Isaiah 10:15-16)

    Assyria is not exempt from God’s wrath, or even for the violence they did when they were executing God’s wrath – for Assyria’s heart was only to destroy and plunder the nations around them. It is another instance of God’s using their ungodly purposes for His own purpose.

    So Romans 13 is far from saying that all that a government ordained by God is righteous in all it does. Romans 13 does say that government is a tool in God’s hand to execute His wrath. We are to yield to that authority and not take vengence ourselves; that is God’s place (ultimately) – and those to whom God has given it (in the present time).

    • mokus

      Why must all violence (the use of deadly force) necessarily be considered vengeance? Is it not possible to use force for other reasons?

      • Jerry Starling

        What other godly purpose for violence would you suggest than God’s own vengence, whether administered by Himself directly or by the instrument that He has ordained such as the government? I suppose you could point to the discipline, which (if administered to our children in a loving way) is instructive and not vengeful. You could also speak of the discipline God administers such as Paul’s thorn in the flesh (whatever that was). Other than God’s vengence and discipline, I see no justification for violence. Would violence as discipline include the protection of loved ones in a confrontation with those of evil intent? Possibly. Or would it come under violence as God’s vengence on evil doers when we are put into such situations and cannot defuse them some other way? Possibly here as well.

    • mattdabbs


      I don’t think one can use Romans 13 to condone Hitler. When do you think violence would be a warranted response. A while back you said that you would not be opposed to violence.

      There is a difference between being a man of war, constantly shedding blood and the 1 in a million situation that you find yourself confronted with the decision of whether or not to protect your family from an evil person who wishes harm upon the innocent. The first is 100% unloving and cruel. If you go about your life with violence on your mind, looking for opportunity to harm people that is certainly ungodly. The second is 100% loving (the desire to take care of your family). Hopefully none of us will ever be in a situation where we will be faced with that decision.

      • Jerry Starling

        Matt, I have never used Romans 13 to condone Hitler. In fact, I said that God may at times use evil nations to punish other evil nations, He may do it directly, or (in a few instances) He has used His people (e.g., Joshua and David) to do that.

        On the other hand, those who support just war theory point to WWII as obviously a “just war.” In one of my comments above, I suggested that this may not be as obvious as we assume it is and mentioned an article Tim Archer linked to as giving reasons to question that assumption. Unfortunately, I am not online with MY computer and cannot locate that article at the moment. I’ll be happy to send it to you for your consideration when I return home early next week (if you are interested in seeing it).

    • mattdabbs

      My Hitler comment was in agreement with your point about government and its use of powers, at times even against the righteous and innocent. I was not poking you at all. The Hitler example is a point many scholars have made in the past to temper our understanding of Romans 13 just as you have done in your above comment. It wasn’t a jab at all. Sorry it read that way. I am not out to jab people, especially you 🙂

    • mattdabbs

      One other thing…what you just said seems to confirm my point, the one thing no one is addressing. There has to be a place where violence is not evil because there are times God uses it to administer judgement, etc…scripture is quite clear about that. So if God uses it, by default we have to realize that violence is not 100% evil. God does not condone nor use evil to advance his purposes or judgment.

      The ultimate example of all of this is hell. Whether you subscribe to an annihilationist view or a literal view…hell is destruction. Hell is violent. Somehow destruction and a loving God fit together. I made the point earlier that some things are just beyond our comprehension. Some choose to allegorize, metaphorize, or fictionalize these accounts. My approach is to realize God’s ways are higher and his thoughts are higher so there will be some things I just won’t fully understand how they fit together. That means we just can’t dismiss via allegory, metaphor or flat out calling it fiction (not that I am saying you are doing this, mind you) certain scriptures because they don’t make us comfortable.

      Jerry…I have so much respect for you and your opinions on things and this is no exception. Keep making your points because I really am listening. Iron sharpens iron. Thank you brother.

  • mattdabbs

    I will have to think about the first paragraph of my last comment some more. God using Assyria bring judgment on Israel would be an instance of God using the wicked for judgment.

  • Timothy Archer

    Sorry to have missed the fun. Let me just throw in a few comments at this late hour:

    (1) Pacifism is opposition to war. Pacifists are sometimes opposed to all violence, sometimes they are not. It’s helpful to avoid mixing the concepts.

    (2) As to the Old Testament, I would say that it’s helpful in such discussions to separate the conquest of the Promised Land from other acts of violence. The conquest of the Promised Land was a spiritual cleansing of the place of promise, more akin to the destruction of the wicked at the final judgment. Note that Israel was never sent around to police the other nations. God didn’t send an Israelite army to deal with Assyria; he sent a prophet named Jonah. I don’t remember a time when God pointed to an unjust nation and sent the Israelites to exact justice on them. (The destruction of the Amalekites, though outside of the Promised Land, was related to Israel entering Canaan)

    (3) I’m looking forward to your next posts on this subject!

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