Some of the discussion around Monday’s Memorial Day post reflects a tension Christians have long wrestled with in this country: just how far are we expected to go in living out Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount?
It’s tempting to think of Jesus’ definitive sermon as a personal ethic, a moral ideal meant for individuals, not whole societies or communities. And while the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount were directed to Jesus’ followers (and would-be followers), they were more than suggestions on how to be a better person. Jesus envisioned a far more radical transformation; his Sermon on the Mount was his blueprint for a reconfigured humanity. And this blueprint was built on a foundation of nonretaliation and enemy-love, which preclude violence as a way of achieving our desired ends.
Preston Sprinkle does a great job unpacking the nonviolent teachings of Jesus and their broader implications in chapters 6 and 7 of his book Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence. What’s fascinating is that he does so from within a conservative Reformed perspective. I was part of this tradition for several years, and I never heard someone of his perspective advocate for nonviolence until now. As someone who wholeheartedly agrees that nonretaliation is more than some “insignificant whisper” on the margins of Jesus’ teachings, I hope Preston’s case gets a wide hearing in conservative Reformed circles—and beyond.
Here are some quotes were reflecting on:
Jesus’ Sermon [on the Mount] is more than a personal ethic—a way in which individuals can be better people. Rather, the Sermon is intended to reconfigure God’s new community, to mold His people into a visibly different kingdom in the face of all other imposter kingdoms. Or in Jesus’ own words, we are to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world”—a public display of a different way.
Jesus invades every sphere of our lives. He claims lordship over it all… He doesn’t let us hold on to little compartments of life where we can respond to evil however we darn well please. Trying to find exceptions to the rule works against what Jesus is doing here. Jesus demands Calvary-shaped behavior that confounds and loves the enemy.
The New Testament is ubiquitously clear: don’t retaliate with evil for evil; do good to those who hate you; embrace your enemy with a cross-shaped, unyielding divine love. Such a rich and pervasive trajectory—from Jesus’ Sermon [on the Mount], modeled through His life, commended to His disciples, taken up by the apostles, and demanded of the early church—shows that nonretaliation and enemy-love are not some insignificant whisper lingering on the edge of Jesus’ ethical landscape. They are fundamental identity markers for citizens of God’s kingdom.
You can order Preston’s book here.