Peace Be With You: Christ’s Benediction Amid Violent Empire

Sharon Baker & Michael Hardin (eds). Cascadia, 2010, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        This is an incredibly rich collection of perspectives of the church and its relation to society, the relationship of Christian faith to politics. For some, ‘America is the New Empire, an incarnation of the empire of the apocalypse, the whore that deceives. For others, especially for those who take a Constantinian approach, the American Empire is salvation (p 12).

        This book reaction will touch on a few of the insightful perspectives given by the 14 contributors. Constantinianism is the commitment to the conviction that the state appropriately holds a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, that Christians should work within the structures of their legitimately violent states, taking up arms when called upon to do so and that history is best read through the eyes of people in power.

        Craig Carter writes about liberalism in the new Constantinianism characterized by four central concepts (freedom but from, not for, as Bonhoeffer develops it in Creation and Fall), desire (the quest for more), consumption (work as a necessary evil), progress.

        Sharon Baker develops a powerful metaphor of keys to the kingdom of G-d:  love, forgiveness and reconciliation. She points out what happened to the church as it accepted the empire’s keys: from restorative to retributive justice, from love rather than judgement, from fellowship to protection.

        Even believer’s baptism may reflect Constantinianism when it is far too often merely the fulfillment of a social expectation and is disconnected from discipleship (p 205), ‘a gate-keeping ceremony initiating the baptized not into a life of discipleship but into the next developmental stage in communities when joining the church demands no social distancing from the mainstream’ (p 207).

        A wonderful anthology that focuses on the peace Jesus gives.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.