I subscribe to Sprinkle’s Theology in the Raw podcast, where he answers questions submitted by listeners. While he will answer just about any question, the questions submitted most frequently seem to address sexual ethics or nonviolence.
As founder and president of The Center for Faith, Sexuality and Gender, and as author of People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality is Not Just an Issue, Sprinkle is understandably peppered with questions about sexual ethics. And as author of Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence, he frequently faces questions about his biblical understanding of violence.
Sprinkle does not particularly like the term “pacifism,” but instead promotes a philosophy of “Christ-centred nonviolence.” I have often found that his answers to queries about nonviolence raise, in my mind, as many questions as they answer, but he consistently points people to his book as a fuller treatment of the subject. In a desire to understand more about Sprinkle’s theology of nonviolence, I purchased the book and read it.
I was fairly certain that I would come away disagreeing quite decidedly with Sprinkle on several fronts. What I found was that I had assumed far more than was fair.
Starting at the beginning, Sprinkle argues for an Edenic ideal. Eden was a place devoid of violence. That was the world as God envisioned it.
Sin then entered the world and, with sin, an evil tendency within men toward violence. But God’s ideal, Sprinkle reminds, was Edenic. As the world collapsed under the weight of increasing violence, God’s law slowly revealed a better way. While the old covenant law was hardly pacifistic in nature, it was far more peaceful than the surrounding culture. As the story of the Bible unfolds, there is a clear trajectory toward a full embrace of nonviolence. This embrace of nonviolence finds its full expression in the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered much violence but never responded in kind. As he did so, he left us an example to follow.
Sprinkle does not ignore difficult texts. While the reader may wish for a more comprehensive treatment of certain Scriptures, and may feel that a small handful of texts goes wholly untreated, there is no doubt that Sprinkle’s convictions are exegetically attained. His explanation of the texts he addresses are clear and concise.
Sprinkle draws a distinction between force and violence. Addressing the matter of a hypothetical home invader, he writes, “I think that one could forcefully resist without using violence. But intentionally killing the attacker would be an act of violence.” Violence, he argues, is “the use of physical force intending to destroy another person.” Attackers, however, can be restrained without violence.
This definition itself answers a host of questions, and provides good balance to Sprinkle’s argument. He does not promote a position that would leave a man unable to intervene if an invader were attacking his family. He argues, instead, that such restraint must fall short of murder.
Sprinkle’s greatest concern is clearly with the militarisation of nations like the United States. He cautions believers against serving, in a personal capacity, in armed and police forces in a position that would require them to potentially take human life, but his greater burden is to show that there is no room, biblically speaking, for a nation like the United States to claim divine authority to police the world through military violence. He touches briefly on the matter of capital punishment, but does not address the subject in a thorough manner.
You may, as I did, come to this book with a host of reservations, but, if you are committed to the authority of Scripture and the lordship of Jesus Christ, I suspect that you will come away agreeing with far more than you disagree with. I highly commend this book for anyone who wishes to understand more deeply a Christian approach to nonviolence.
Note: In 2021, this book was rebranded, updated, and released as Nonviolence: The Revolutionary Way of Jesus.
Dr. Preston Sprinkle is a biblical scholar, speaker, podcaster, a New York Times bestselling author, and is the co-founder and president of The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender. He earned a Ph.D. in New Testament from Aberdeen University in Scotland (2007), and has taught theology at Cedarville University (OH), Nottingham University (U.K.), and Eternity Bible College (CA). But when he grows up, Preston’s dream is to move to a tropical island and become a professional surfer. Unfortunately, his surfing skills are sketchy at best.
Preston loves talking and writing about hot-button cultural and theological issues with thoughtfulness, honesty and grace. He is passionate about approaching topics that everyone wants to know about, but few are willing to talk honestly and graciously about. Topics like sexuality, gender, race, violence, patriotism, hell, politics, war, and what it means to follow a Jewish prophet-king who was executed for treason. He works hard to challenge himself and others to read the Bible with conviction and humility, while holding their predetermined beliefs loosely.