We have just completed a journey that began on December 5, 2015, with a post titled Can Christians Support a War on Islamic Terrorism. In that post I said:
If you are worshiping in a Mainline Protestant denomination, the loudest and most aggressive responding voices will likely be pushing a peculiar form of pacifism that simultaneously excuses / justifies violence by Islamic terrorists (among others) while demanding that our society do nothing to defend itself. Many Christians will be cowed into silence by these arguments because of the oft repeated falsehood that Jesus Christ is a pacifist. This argument has power only because of a successful campaign that has turned “Jesus Christ” into nothing other than an avatar for radical progressive beliefs.
In order to get to this point I embarked on a series of posts kicked-off by Who is Jesus Christ and How do We Know? followed by six posts titled How Can We Know Who Jesus Christ Is?. Only then could I begin discussing the issue of Christ’s supposed pacifism in six posts titled Is Jesus Christ a Pacifist and How Can We Know?. Thus, it has taken at least 14 substantial posts and thousands of words to generate a credible response to the core question.
I’m confident that the question of Jesus Christ’s supposed pacifism has been credibly and conclusively answered — He is not a pacifist. That being my conclusion, I’m now forced to address the obvious question:
If Jesus Isn’t a Pacifist Then Why do so Many Christians Think He Is?
The above description of what it has taken to get to this point constitutes a first level answer. That being that it takes hard work, sustained Biblical focus, theological knowledge and critical thinking to answer for yourself even the apparently simplest questions about Jesus Christ. The fact is that very few Christians have the time, energy, inclination or background to embark on such a journey. I am not here being critical. Rather, I am stating a fact that leads to important consequences.
The key consequence is that most Christians, by necessity, place their trust in Christian institutions and leaders who (they believe) know and teach the best available truth about their faith. They also utilize the information and resources that are easily available to think about important issues associated with the Christian faith. However, if the institutions, leaders and other available sources are driven by agendas other than Christianity as revealed in the Bible, then this trust can be used as a weapon of deception and falsehood.
This is not to say that any Christian who believes that Christ is a pacifist is engaging in deception and falsehood. That is, many Christians believe this with clear consciences, having placed their trust in sources of information that appear to clearly and compellingly teach this “truth.”
So, in this and following post I will take up the title’s question, starting with the following discussion.
The Problem of Unexamined Assumptions
One of the greatest temptations when studying the Bible is to focus primarily on those passages that tend to confirm our own preconceived view of who God is, what is His nature and what He requires of us. The flip side is to pass over quickly, or completely ignore, those passages that tend to challenge our preconceived views.
This begs the question from where these preconceived views originate. A common answer is Biblical illiteracy. Polls showing that Biblical literacy is shockingly low, and declining even among committed Christians are well known. We are aware that only a minority of Christians commit to regular Bible study, as individuals or in groups. Our busy, distracted lives are too easily diverted to prioritize other goods. The result is too often the “blind leading the blind” in terms of Biblical discussion. We simply assume that the Bible actually teaches those things that are commonly attributed to it by our peers, pastors and advisors.
But there is something else at work. Even for those Christians who have made the commitment to regular Bible study there exist significant “blind spots.” That is, in spite of their complete reading of entire Books, and the entire Bible itself, they are shocked and dismayed when confronted by specific Biblical teachings.
The cognitive dissonance exhibited in these situations is often painful to observe. On the one hand, the individual knows what they are convinced that the Bible teaches. On the other hand, they are confronted with clear, concrete Bible passages that conflict with their understanding. In too many cases the resolution is not to admit that their understanding might be incomplete or actually incorrect. Rather, they, in effect, simply ignore the offending material.
Regardless of the sources or reasons, it is clear that many Bible believing Christians approach Scripture with preconceived ideas imprinted upon their minds. These imprints are firmly established and powerfully persistent. Bible study itself becomes not an open-minded inquiry into God’s teaching, but rather a cafeteria line of ideas to be accepted or rejected depending on their adherence to what is already “known” to be true, or, to what should be true.
There is also a not-so-subtle social pressure to fall into line with the socially dominant position, which will be discussed in the next post.