Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Hargaden’

Advent Devotional Day 22: “The Meaning of Christmas Is Easter”

December 22, 2018

During the month of December, I’ve prepared a series of daily devotionals to help my church get ready for and celebrate Christmas. I created a booklet (if you’d like a copy, let me know), but I’ll also post devotionals each day on my blog.

Devotional Text: John 1:1-18

In January 2007, a 50-year-old construction worker and Navy veteran from New York named Wesley Autrey was taking his two young daughters home on the subway in Manhattan. While he was standing on the subway platform, a 20-year-old film student suffered a seizure and collapsed onto the tracks in front of a fast approaching train. The student was dazed. He struggled vainly to climb back onto the platform but fell down. That’s when Autrey did something so brave and heroic I can’t comprehend it.

Without having a moment to spare, Autrey leapt onto the tracks as the train neared. There was a trough between the two rails about a foot deep. Autrey pushed the student down into the trough and lay on top of him, holding him down, while five subway cars passed over the both of them, inches above Autrey’s head. Autrey, who was underneath the train, shouted to bystanders that they were O.K., and could someone look after his two daughters until he got out.

Both men were saved. Autrey said afterwards, “I don’t feel like I did something spectacular; I just saw someone who needed help. I did what I felt was right.”[1]

All I can say is, I hope Wesley Autrey is around if ever I’m in trouble!

I said a moment ago that I can’t comprehend his act of heroism, but that’s not quite right: I can comprehend it, but only because I’m a parent. Not that I’ve ever had to put it to the test—and not that I want to—but when my daughter was born—my firstborn—I understood for the first time the impulse to sacrifice one’s life for someone else. I remember thinking for the first time, “In the interest of love, I would do anything to protect and save this precious life. I would jump in front of a speeding locomotive to save her. I would push her out of the way of a fast-approaching bus. I would take a bullet for her. Without giving it a second thought!” (And, by all means, I would do the same for my two boys!) That’s love, and I fell in it deeply and unshakably and unfailingly when I became a father.

Now consider our heavenly Father’s love for us: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 KJV). The “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” so that God could lay down his life to save us, his children. 

My friend Kevin Hargaden, a Presbyterian minister in Ireland, put it well in a Facebook post one Christmas: “And remember, folks, the real meaning of Christmas is Easter.”

Christmas means that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And the word that God spoke so powerfully through the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of his Son is “I love you.”

Have you experienced God’s love for yourself? You can!

If you’re ready to receive God’s gift of salvation in Christ, begin by praying this prayer:

Almighty God, I confess to you that I am a sinner in need of your forgiveness. I know that because of my sins I deserve nothing better than death and hell. But I also know that you loved me too much to leave me this way. I am sorry for my sins and with your help I am turning away from them now. I believe that your Son Jesus is Lord. I believe that through Jesus—through his death on the cross and through his resurrection from the dead—you are offering me forgiveness and eternal life. Enable me to receive that gift now. I promise, by your grace and power, to be a faithful follower of Jesus for the rest of my life—in this world and in the world to come. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

If you prayed this prayer, please let me ( or someone else know. I would love to help you as you begin this journey as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

1. Cara Buckley, “A Man Down, and a Stranger Makes a Choice,” New York Times, 3 January 2007.

Last thoughts (this week) on Christian pacifism

February 25, 2015

A few weeks ago I heard a new argument for changing our United Methodist Church’s stance on human sexuality. It wasn’t a good argument, mind you, but it was one I hadn’t heard before. I reflected on it in this blog post. A United Methodist pastor in Birmingham named Wade Griffith applied Jesus’ words in John 16:12-13 to our sexuality debate: Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

One of the “many things” that Jesus still had to say to us, the church, was that homosexual practice—at least in the context of committed, monogamous, lifelong relationships—was blessed by God. God’s attitude toward homosexual practice wasn’t different back then; it’s only that the idea was so radical that no one back then could have handled it. So, by Griffith’s logic, first Jesus and later the Holy Spirit waited until the sexual revolution of the late-twentieth century had sufficiently prepared the world—at least the wealthy Western industrialized part—for this previously radical idea.

The Holy Spirit, said Griffith, waited until the right time…

As I wrote in the blog post:

But the Spirit didn’t wait, did he? Because within 20 years of Jesus’ words in John 16, this same Spirit—the very Spirit of Christ, who makes Christ present to us, who reminds us of Christ’s teaching and how to apply it to our lives—inspired Paul to tell us through scripture that homosexual behavior contradicts God’s intentions for humanity.

Did the Spirit not know back then, when Paul was writing the so-called “clobber verses,” how confusing Paul’s words would later prove to be for Christians? Couldn’t the Spirit at least have had Paul remain silent on the subject? Or did the Holy Spirit really have so little to do with producing the canon of scripture?

My point is this: Griffith’s argument falls victim to the idea that the revelation of God in Christ is different, even at times opposed, to the revelation of God in holy scripture.

How can an evangelical committed to the authority of scripture endorse this line of reasoning?

Yet, in my own way, I was unconsciously accepting its premise in my previous blog post (and comment section) regarding Stanley Hauerwas’s view (by way of Kevin Hargaden) of “Christological non-violence.”

In distinguishing Hauerwas’s pacifism from secular pacifism, Kevin writes, “Christological non-violence is different from generic pacifism because it holds that Jesus, not war (or its absence), is the centre of ethical reality.”

In other words, our basis for rejecting war in all cases—not to mention (although Kevin never does) any violent police action, and, indeed, any violent action to defend our families or ourselves—is Christ’s own teaching and example, not our commitment to non-violence, per se.

As an evangelical, I could almost accept that principle if I believed that Jesus taught that Christians can never resort to violence as part of a military, a police force, or in an effort to defend themselves or their families.

I say “almost” because I’d have to interpret Jesus’ words and actions against other passages in scripture, including Jesus’ unqualified praise of the Roman centurion as a paragon of Christian faith, or Peter’s uncritical acceptance of centurion Cornelius in Acts 10, or Paul’s words about the state’s “sword” being a “minister of God” in Romans 13. I would then avail myself of Christian tradition: how did the saints of the past interpret these verses, and were they, as a result, pacifists?

By the way, when it comes to tradition, I always assume, as a rule of thumb, that I’m not morally superior to the Christian saints on whose shoulders I stand. Even if I were a Christian pacifist, it wouldn’t be because I’m smarter or more virtuous than, say, Augustine, who most assuredly wasn’t a pacifist. If the case for Christian pacifism were as easy and obvious as some Christians today seem to make it, then what does that say about Augustine?

I know that there are arguments from scripture and tradition to be made for pacifism. I don’t find them convincing, but they can be made. But I wonder if Hauerwas’s “Christological non-violence” isn’t an ethical principle that he believes is embedded in the life, suffering, and death of Christ, which supersedes any argument from scripture, even where it contradicts the direct words of scripture.

If so, you can count me out. Christological non-violence must be an argument, first, from scripture, all of whose words are a gift from the very Spirit of Christ to us. It’s incomprehensible to me that Christ would teach something (through his words and actions) that the Spirit would contradict when the Spirit inspired these biblical writers to write these words. This is yet another application of that badly distorted “Jesus lens” I’ve written about before.

While we’re on the subject, Dr. Glenn Peoples, a theologian from New Zealand, applauds his government’s decision to send members of the New Zealand Defence Force to Iraq to train Iraqi troops in their fight against ISIS. His thoughts on the subject reflect mine. Follow the links below on Christian pacifism and “Turn the other cheek.” Among other things, he writes (emphasis mine):

“But Christians should be pacifists!”

No they shouldn’t. I know that some say that Christianity was universally a pacifist movement (a movement that taught that there is never any justification for the use of force against others) until bad people like Augustine came along and corrupted the church with the doctrine of the just war. The kindest thing to say about this is that it is an oversimplification, but the ordinary way of describing this is as a lie. There existed pacifists among the Church Fathers, but as I have explained before, the evidence does not support the claim that they were all pacifists up to the time of Augustine. “Turn the other cheek,” some say. “Learn what that means,” I say in reply.) For those interested, I discussed this issue, albeit briefly, on a panel for Elephant TV, and that discussion is available on Youtube (I do not know for how long it will be available).

We must confront IS, not because we hate them, but because we love those who are in the firing line.

Certainly, Christian reflection on vengeance, violence and hatred (and love!) should feed into our thinking about what the right response to IS looks like. But the result of such thinking does not push us to pacifism. Engaging with IS need not be about hatred at all, but about love. It is one thing for people to say “love your enemy,” as though acting against IS must be viewed as contrary to love. But what does it mean to love those who are left at the mercy of IS if the world does not intervene? What kind of false piety is it that would say to them, “although we could intervene to protect you, our love for those who are about to cut off your heads prevents us from doing so. PTL.” If I were more of a mocking person (I am sometimes, but this is too serious to engage in such triviality), there would be an exposed target in the attitude that calls on men, women and children to lie down and die so that we can keep our halo untarnished. We must confront IS, not because we hate them, but because we love those who are in the firing line.

Pacifism in the hard cases

February 24, 2015
From the cover of his memoir "Hannah's Child"

From the cover of Hauerwas’s memoir “Hannah’s Child”

I received an emphatic response, pro and con, to my last blog post about war and the justified use of violence. Of all the negative comments, the following, from my Irish Presbyterian friend Kevin, was best:

I feel this post badly mis-represents Hauerwas. It certainly does not engage with Christological non-violence in terms that proponents could recognise. For one thing, the claim that pacifism is secretly pragmatic is somewhat undercut by reference to one of Hauerwas’ most famous aphorisms:

“Christians are not nonviolent because we believe our nonviolence is a strategy to rid the world of war, but rather because faithful followers of Christ in a world of war cannot imagine being anything else than nonviolent.”

I used to ask Christians who present the argument as you have the following question:

If Just War Theory is the appropriate Biblical pattern for Christian living, then what war that has been fought satisfied the criteria?

But in the midst of the never-ending War on Terror, I realise the question that needs to be asked is:

What war fails to satisfy Just War criteria?

The former President of Yemen spent last night hiding in the back of a food truck after a drone attack he got caught up in killed three people. The conversation that American Christians has about who they are allowed to kill in the name of God appears absurd to your Christians brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world.

Here’s my preliminary response. First, if my post fails to “engage with Christological non-violence in terms that proponents could recognise,” he’s going to have to tell me what “Christological non-violence” means, and tell me what I’m missing. The word “Christology,” by the way, is a showy, overused seminary word that pertains to the ways in which Jesus is both God and man at the same time.

In this context, I’m guessing he means that because Jesus was non-violent, and, when given the opportunity in his passion to respond with violence, chose not to, we should therefore, in all cases, eschew violence. Indeed, as I said in my original post, Hauerwas’s pacifism is premised upon the idea (unless I’m badly mistaken) that God is perfect non-coercive love. Although he’s often called a “high-church Anabaptist,” Hauerwas isn’t like an old-fashioned Anabaptist whose pacifism says, “We believe strongly that vengeance is God’s to repay, and we look forward to it.” From Hauerwas’s perspective, there is no vengeance, no violence, on God’s part.

How he reconciles this with scripture I have no idea.

I never said that Hauerwas was pragmatic about his pacifism, only that the blogger I quoted was: Remember, he’s the one who said that there is a peaceful solution, if only we’ll have the time and patience to find it.

As for Hauerwas’s comment that “faithful followers of Christ in a world of war cannot imagine being anything else than nonviolent,” I can only wonder what world he’s living in.

And this gets to the heart of my objection to Kevin’s complaint. As I said in my comment back to him,

Kevin points to murderous drones killing civilians or whatever. Fine. But if you’re going to be principled about it, defend the principle in the hard cases, too. Here’s why a police sniper isn’t allowed to stop the man who’s spree-killing children at an elementary school. Here’s why soldiers can’t forcibly liberate Auschwitz. Good Lord, here’s why I can’t use force to stop the man who’s raping my wife or molesting my child. Reductio ad absurdum? Reductio ad Hitlerum? Sorry. It’s his principle, not mine. Do we make exceptions?

According to Hauerwas’s principle, any act of violence is proscribed—not just this or that heinous act of indiscriminate killing in warfare—because, after all, how can any of us faithful Christians imagine forcibly stopping someone who is harming our own children—or other people’s children? We must oppose not only our military in all circumstances, but also police protection, the violent defense of our families, and self-defense (obviously). As Hauerwas has said before, “What’s the worst that’s going to happen? We get killed? We’re Christians! Who cares?”

It’s easy for him to say! Even if we share his pacifist convictions, let’s confess that we in the industrialized West are unlikely to find our convictions put to the test. Why? In part because we’re freeloading (except for our taxes) off the umbrella of protection afforded by our national and local defense systems. Our stable systems of government are ultimately enforced through violence, or at least its threat.

As I also indicated in my comments, if this article fairly represents his comments in a recent debate, “maybe Hauerwas disagrees with himself, too.”

Police force that’s short of killing is now “an open question.” Really? It wasn’t an open question back when I was reading him in seminary. Is he really starting to budge on non-lethal violence? On what principle? And how does that principle, whatever it is, not apply to protecting lives outside of one’s country—if it were possible?

A Christian reflection (from Ireland) about abortion

January 23, 2013

My friend Kevin Hargaden, who’s training to be an Irish Presbyterian pastor by attending a Catholic seminary (only in Ireland!), is writing a fine series of five blog posts related to abortion and Christian faith. His country will possibly (likely?) soon join most of the West in permitting legal abortion. Knowing next to nothing about Irish politics and not wanting to bother with a Google search, I gather that his opinion is in the minority—or isn’t the cool one, regardless.

I heartily recommend these posts: part 1, part 2, and part 3, so far. Today he writes about the slander that prohibiting abortion in Ireland is motivated by Church-based misogyny. Of this, he says a few things that relate to our discussions over the past couple of weeks concerning the place of women in church. The following is one long excerpt—but check out his blog, too. It rules! (He’ll be disappointed by how little blog traffic my endorsement elicits!)

Here’s the thing that people might not know and if they did know it, they’d be a whole lot slower to suggest that Christianity is inherently anti-woman. Let us imagine for a moment that Jesus isn’t actually the second person of the Trinity, which is surely not a hard thing to imagine. In that world, a purely non-theistic explanation for why Christianity emerged as top-dawg among all the strange apocalyptic Judaisms of the 2nd Temple era would have to rest in a large part on how it honoured women. Read the rest of this entry »