There were several things that attracted me to the Mennonite-Christian tradition-discipleship, community, simplicity, service, and, of course, peace. In my fifteen years among the Mennonites, however, I have observed two disconcerting tendencies in the Mennonite peace ethic.
First, too often we practice peacemaking as if peace were the fruit of our good intentions and hard work. We thus neglect two things: the reality of the persistence of sin in ourselves and our world despite our best intentions, and the need for divine grace to sustain the spiritual fertility of human effort. Consequently, Mennonite peace activism can often be a cause of frustration (when our intentions falter) or an occasion for pride (when our efforts "succeed").
Second, too often we think and talk about peace in ways that reflect our national contexts and reveal our political commitments. We thus forget two things: that our hope for peace is to be set on God's purposes for the world, and that our commitment to peace is to be aligned with the priorities of God's kingdom. Consequently, Mennonite peace rhetoric can often be hardly distinguishable from a national "peacekeeper" identity (Canada) or a left-wing partisan agenda (United States).
Together these two tendencies point to a theological deficit in the Mennonite peace ethic. Our message and mission of peace needs to be grounded in and guided by God's own work of salvation for the world through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. My prayer is that my new book-Atonement, Justice, and Peace: The Message of the Cross and the Mission of the Church (Eerdmans Publishing)-will be of service to the peace church tradition precisely in helping us redress our theological deficit.
This book studies the biblical theology of the cross with a view toward the church's mission in the world. It aims to draw out the implications of the gospel of "redemption in Christ Jesus" through the cross (Romans 3:24) for our calling as Christians to pursue the "harvest of justice" that "is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:18). It seeks to understand both how God saves sinners by doing justice and making peace through the cross of Christ and the relevance of the cross for Christian action concerning social issues.
This book thus also addresses an unfortunate (if artificial) divide between two camps within contemporary Christianity. One camp talks about "evangelism," while the other camp talks about "mission." These camps, which often coexist on the same Christian college campus or within the same congregation, can have difficulty speaking to and understanding one another, and can even be suspicious of the other's motivations. Each tends to see the other as having shortchanged or distorted the core message of the gospel and the true calling of the church.
One might characterize this divide in terms of a (supposed) divergence between different gospels. Those that identify the Christian calling with "evangelism" emphasize a "Pauline" gospel that centers on the message of Christ crucified: "Christ died for our sins." Those that identify the Christian calling with "social activism" emphasize a "Jesus" gospel that centers on the good news of the kingdom: "the kingdom of God has come near." The tendency of "evangelical" Christians is to "spiritualize" the kingdom, while the tendency among "peace and justice" Christians is to "historicize" the cross.
The disconnect between God's salvation through the cross of Christ and Christian action for justice and peace goes both ways: those passionate for the message of salvation through Christ crucified can miss (or dismiss) the ethical implications of the cross for doing justice and making peace in the name of Christ; and those passionate for justice and peacemaking for the cause of the kingdom can miss (or dismiss) the distinctive "cruciform" pattern of Christian ethics.
By showing that the good news of Christ crucified and Christian action for justice and peace are inseparable, this book challenges both the "conservative" and "liberal" factions within the church. Indeed, it concludes by fleshing out a "cruciform" paradigm for envisioning and enacting the mission of the church in accord with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.