Sprinkle’s ‘Fight’…and ours? (pt 1)

Fight.SprinkleNot too long ago I was having a back-and-forth with a friend on a biblical stance concerning (non-)violence. Whether through that discussion or some other he made mention of Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence by Preston Sprinkle. I got my hands on a copy and found the book to be a very readable defense of what would typically be called Christian pacifism (Sprinkle himself doesn’t prefer the term for his position).

Working Sprinkle’s arguments into our discussion was good but it was becoming a little labor intensive. In the hope of killing two birds with one stone I thought I’d take the seeds of that growing exchange and use it as fodder for the blog. So for the next several weeks I plan to offer a series of posts in response to the book.

Ultimately, I disagree with Sprinkle’s final analysis. That’s unfortunate since I think we agree far more than we disagree. But more on that later. For now I’ll use this introductory post to present an overview of the book in Sprinkle’s own words.

The book’s purpose & modus operandi–establish a Christian position on violence by starting with Scripture:

I’m writing this book to help contribute to the ongoing discussion of how Christians should think about warfare, violence, and their close cousin, nationalism . . . But in order to address these issues from a Christian perspective, we need to dig into Scripture to see what God does say about them. So often in heated debates, the Bible is rarely consulted. Or if it is, it’s done haphazardly or with blatant bias. Oftentimes we start with a view we are convinced is right; then we go to Scripture to find verses to support it . . . But we should at least work hard at laying aside our preconceived beliefs about warfare and violence and invite God to critique our view in light of His precious Word. [23]

Sprinkle’s thesis–Christians should not use violence:

I believe that the Bible advocates nonviolence. I do not believe that Jesus wants Christians to use violence. And if I can be so blunt: I think that a large portion of the American evangelical church has been seduced, whether knowingly or not, by nationalistic militarism. Yet our inspired Word of God aggressively critiques this very thing, as we will see. [23-24]

His definition of violence:

I will use the term violence to refer to: a physical act that is intended to destroy (i.e. injure) a victim by means that overpower the victim’s consent. [32]

Sprinkle’s goals for the book–rethink violence, snuff out militarism, & fight evil without violence:

First, I want everyone who reads this book to rethink what the Bible—and only the Bible—says about warfare and violence . . . Second, I hope that this book will help snuff out the militaristic spirit that has crept into the American church over the last few decades. Third, I pray that this book will help evangelical Christians to fight. Fight against evil. Fight against the schemes of the Devil. Fight against sin. Fight against injustice . . . But in light of what the Bible teaches, I pray that citizens of God’s kingdom would emulate their King and fight without using violence. [35]

I’ll close this intro by observing that Sprinkle develops his thesis by following a redemptive-historical approach to the texts. Consequently, readers will be disappointmented if they come to the book for commentary on a catalog of “violent” verses. Sprinkle is more concerned with seeing how violence fits in the Bible’s overall storyline as it moves from Creation to Christ to New Creation. Every systematic approach to Scripture has its strengths and weaknesses but Sprinkle’s choice served the discussion far better than mere proof texting.

So that’s the book in a nutshell (mostly in the author’s own words). In the next post we’ll take a look at how Sprinkle assesses violence in the Genesis narratives.

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Author: Jonathan P. Merritt

Happily married father of six. Associate pastor for education at Edgewood Baptist Church (Columbus, GA). Good-natured contrarian and theological Luddite. A student of one book.

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