Monday, April 27, 2009

Paul Mills on Peace: II

In his pamplet, The Bible and War, published, apparently, in the mid-1940s, Mills argues that the "social gospel" of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries justified war. What he calls a new theology, "was destined to minimize if not eliminate the miraculous from the Gospel, adopt the moral influence theory of atonement, and consider the value in Jesus' teaching to be principally in their ethical content." The central purpose of the church was to build the kingdom of God on earth. Democracy was the best form of government for building this kingdom, Thus, Mills writes, most of the Christian churches supported World War I because they thought it would make the world safe of democracy (this sounds very similar to the Roman Christians fighting for the Roman Empire in order to "protect" Christianity) and be the war to end all wars.

It was neither, as Mills is quick to note. And by de-emphasizing the possibility of depravity in mankind, MIlls writes, the new theology essentially let Hitler slip under the wire.

Mills points out that many turned against pacifism because of Hitler. He quotes one former pacifist, Mr. Milne, writing in the Christian Century in 1941 saying, "I would rather go to hell for fighting than have my son brought up to think it was funny to kick a Jew in the stomach." He says that after Pearl Harbor, many theologians revised their pacifism as they witnessed atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese on the Chinese or because of German actions. Mills calls this sort of pacifism 'relativism."

The answer, he says, is not to model our actions on " a refined and cultured paganism" that says peace is ideal but rejects it as soon as some group violates our notions of civilized behavior. This leads to shifting standards and confusion, Mills says. However, "if we look to Jesus Christ, he is the same yesterday, today and forever."

Mills continues: "...war is economic folly and suicidal to civilization, but this conviction is not Christian pacifism. The pacifism of the "social gospel" ... is a light that will fail at the darkest hour. ... A conviction that is rooted in the Bible and quickened by the Spirit of God to a Christian conscience will be necessary in hours of crisis."

Do you agree that the pacifism of the social gospel is a light that will fail at the darkest hour? How do we get beyond a social gospel articulation of the peace testimony?


Daniel Wilcox said...

Hi Diane,

I think that when it comes to peacemaking in war as in every other ethical crisis, Christ needs to be our Center.

Sadly people of faith so often look elsewhere--conservatives to their nation ("God bless America; Fight for our freedom") or in Germany, (with "God and Country" on their belt buckles) and liberals (Let's rescue Kosovo,Darfur,____via justified violence.

Instead we need to look to the Cross, where Jesus forgave his Roman enemies.

Christ needs to be the Center of each crisis.

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Diane said...

Thanks Daniel.


Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes. I agree with Daniel.

It is a quandary and puzzling to me. But I accept it. That is the teaching of Christian Pacifism as in how we are to live out the reality of the kingdom of God come in Jesus as the new Israel, scattered throughout the earth.

I just see the cons outweighing the pros (seeming pros, one could say) in asking whether a Christian could serve in an effort to stop someone like Hitler. I do want to keep working on this, that is my understanding on Christian Pacifism and where I stand.

Interesting post.

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Perhaps there is a fallen version of the social gospel, and also an unfallen version.

I would like to suggest that you, and anyone else who has any curiosity about the social gospel movement, go to and order a copy of Walter Rauschenbusch's book The Social Principles of Jesus. (You should be able to get directly to their listings by clicking here.)

It’s a very short book, written as a study guide for Christian college students. It doesn’t advocate any sort of light other than the light of Christ himself. And it’s wonderfully readable.

If it doesn’t make you want to stand up and cheer at least twice before you’ve finished reading it, I’ll be surprised. If it doesn’t make you thoughtful, and force you to reconsider one or two of the assumptions you’ve made about Jesus and your religion, I’ll be astonished.

It certainly had all those effects on me.

I don’t think anyone could truthfully say that the social gospel Rauschenbusch presents in this book is merely “a refined and cultured paganism”.