Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Book Review: "Ain't Gonna Study War No More" by Albert Curry Winn

Pablo Picasso, "Man with a Lamb."
(Featured on the cover of the book,
which unfortunately could not be found)
Winn, Albert Curry. Ain't Gonna Study War No More: Biblical Ambiguity and the Abolition of War. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993. pp.ix-236. ISBN 978-0-664-25207-9. ★★★★☆

In Ain't Gonna Study War No More, Albert Curry Winn lays out the ambiguity of Scripture's teaching on war and peace to come to terms with how Christians should practically apply that teaching. Winn highlights the ambiguity by constructing an overview of war in the Bible, as well as peace in the Bible. What Winn found was a consistent affirmation throughout Scripture that God is no stranger to the use of war, and that it has often been a part of his will. However, Winn also found a consistent affirmation throughout Scripture that peace is ultimately God's way and is the grand goal that is being sought after.

Winn asks, What do we do with this ambiguity? Supremely informed by John Howard Yoder's The Politics of Jesus, Winn suggests that we emulate Jesus, who chose the prophetic, suffering-servant way of peace over militarism. The disciples, he says, made the same choice. And as Christians, we should make that choice as well. We should choose the "reverse fighting" of laying down our lives instead of violently standing up for our rights.

Winn makes no attempt to resolve the theological problem of the diversity of Scripture's theology of war and the violence attributed to God in many places in Scripture. He simply suggests that the Scriptural witness ultimately calls Christians to choose the way of peace and leave the rest to God.

The weakest of Winn's overviews is the one on the ambiguity of Jesus' teaching on war. The examples he gives of Jesus supporting the use of violence aren't as self-evident as he treats them. Not only does he fail to provide a good explanation for how they imply Jesus' sanction of violence, but he also doesn't dialogue with alternate readings of the passages. For example, he says Matthew 11:12 and Luke 16:16 do not offer pictures of a peaceable kingdom, "but of a kingdom connected in some way with violence" (p.16). The Matthew verse says that the kingdom of God "has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force," which is Jesus' commentary on the persecution of John the Baptist. The Luke verse, referring to the same event, says that "everyone tries to enter [the kingdom] by force." It seems clear to me that these verses say that the kingdom suffers violence as many try to seize it--like what was done to John the Baptist. To take these verses and try to say that the kingdom of God advances by force and violence is to go way beyond the text, especially given the rest of Jesus' ethical teaching on violence.

Ironically, Winn later says that Christians are called to live a life of peace. If they're called to live a life of peace, how can he say that they may be in special cases given divine sanction to use force to expand the kingdom? He describes the kingdom of God as a peaceable kingdom that rejects the use of violence and seeks the abolition of war, but he says here that Christ's kingdom is connected in some way with violence. He contradicts himself on this point.

When Winn revisits Jesus' teaching toward the end of the book, he cites the predictions of the destruction of the temple as examples of Jesus utilizing the so-called holy war tradition and saying that God will use war against his people. However, he does not quote an example of Jesus implying that God will be an active part in the destruction of the temple. That the predictions are reminiscent of the prophetic tradition is not enough to say that Jesus meant that God will be an active warrior as he was depicted in the Old Testament. Winn says that Jesus is ambiguous, having taught both war and peace at different times--but his support for the pro-violence aspect of Jesus' teaching is weak.

While he stresses biblical ambiguity, Winn concludes that peace should be the way of the church and that Christians should seek the abolition of war, a conclusion with which I wholeheartedly agree. More could be said about the other topics discussed in the book, as Winn also yields insights on other biblical topics. If you want a good introduction to war and peace in the Bible, as well as the teaching of Yoder and those like him, from a well-versed Old Testament scholar, then this would be a good book to check out.

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