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http://sce.sagepub.com Armaments and Eschatology
John H. Yoder Studies in Christian Ethics 1988; 1; 43 DOI: 10.1177/095394688800100107 The online version of this article can be found at: http://sce.sagepub.com
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ARMAMENTS AND ESCHATOLOGY
materialistic and rationalistic age, we regard the of the apostles’ times, or of ours, with discourse Apocalyptic embarrassment or amazement. I submit that we need to encounter this scandal head-on, as a transcultural hermeneutic challenge, not to dodge it on grounds of authority or cultural superiority, and that the nuclear drama of our time provides an occasion to do that. A more precise formulation of my theme would be: &dquo;The Arms Race and the Apocalyptic Dimension of Christian Faith&dquo;, or if you will &dquo;Christian Faith and the I Apocalyptic Dimension of the Arms Races Rather than starting from methodological first principles, I propose to let the shape of the subject unfold from the top of the problem; i.e. from the surface of current public debate. This debate is in fact marked by an of
&dquo;TOTAL WAR HAS MADE AN END TO ITSELF&dquo;
Ever since Hiroshima some thinkers have been speaking of the nuclear age as the end of politics as usual, or of military strategy as usual. One of the first and most qualified voices to say that was that of Commander Sir Stephen King-Hall of His Majesty’s Navy, as early as 1945.~ For experts in military science, the boundary which nuclear weapons overstep is the self-defining limitation of what one can do with weapons. Soon other limits came into view, especially those of the ecosphere. Instead of evaluating preparations for war in traditional terms like the carefully qualifying and quantifying criteria of the just war tradition, many have evoked the prospect of the end of life or of civilization as we know them, seeing this prospect as a new kind of reason for this or that political
choice. It has
traditionally not been wrong, some will say for instance, to kill enemies under certain circumstances. This is the just war tradition. It has further been widely agreed that killing even the innocent is acceptable, orr condition that it is not done intentionally, directly, or
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Now that bishops are taking testimony from arms experts and diplomats. Whereas the standard account of ’just war’ accountability said or implied that if a government pursues immoral policies the conscript should refuse to serve and the soldier should refuse to shoot.On the other hand. or between the accuracy projections of an optimistic ballistics engineer and a pessimistic one? There would be more such questions. if I choose between the sovietological wisdom of George Kennan and that of Richard Perle. 7 entitled III Defense of Creatioll. 2008 . it would under all circumstances be wrong to destroy the ecological balance or the ozone layer and with it vertebrate life. when) killing as a choice made by someone in particular (whether sovereign or soldier) is justifiable.com at DUKE UNIV on November 25. to speak only for the whole society’s choice. Instead of personal terms. or more objective. 10 The Methodist bishops see political decisions regarding armaments from a macro utilitarian perspective. or is it purely a matter of whim or self-interest. or what our smokestacks are doing to the forests of the American Northeast or of central Europe? We should also need to ask about the ’technological turn’ the conversation has taken. quantifying. One of them would be the validity in Christian ethics of the ’ecological turn’. More basic is the ’constantinian turn’. Some have called this approach. ’survivalism’. dependent on the claim that the stakes have escalated qualitatively beyond the reach of a previous frame of reference.~ It is the dominant argument in the recent statement of the bishops of the United Methodist Church of the US. asking as the classical tradition did whether (and if so.5 Downloaded from http://sce. and therefore debatable judgment becomes an absolute one.sagepub. Were I to analyze that American Methodist document as a model of magisterial moral theology. the possibility of ’prevailing’ in a nuclear war. it seems to the bishops to be more pastoral. or the other technical data (including politics as a kind of technique) which the experts they consulted told them should be decisive? Can moral theology say anything while the experts differ? Is it an act of moral discernment for which one can be accountable. what authority have the informed technical judgments to which they come with regard to the likelihood of escalation. (a) Is it evident that it is best to use the term ’creation’ as designating the biological substratum for human existence rather than as including human culture and history?8 (b) Is it morally worse to destroy fisheries and forests than cities because ’creation’ is of a higher order of value than history? Or is it evil on a deeper causative level because cities and histories will also perish if the forests and fisheries go?9 (c) Are we sure that what a nuclear blast would do to the ecosphere is qualitatively or quantatively worse than the desertification of the Sahara a few millennia ago or of the Sahel today. the only implementation the bishops call for is heightened citizen involvement in national politics. The stakes are qualitatively different: thus what had been the object of a discriminating. I should need to pursue further more than one obvious question. they say. 44 disproportionately.
The new fact arises out of the business of war-making. This is what happens in the claim that we have entered a brand new age. since it is precisely that potentially immoral quality of the threatened retaliation which assures that it will not need to be carried out. What concerns me here. but the French doctrine on dex frappe’. one major flaw in this new simplicity is its assuming that the qualitative escalation of the stakes can and should leapfrog discriminating debates about lesser threats and less absolute means.1 is still that the menace may morally be disproportionate or indiscriminate. one holds that just one consideration. since nuclear war must never happen. which can be fairly called the NATO view. It is brought to our attention by the military planners. by a state of things such that the stakes are so great that the semblance of choice is wiped away. Obviously there is no other value to outweigh the destruction of the whole world system. the generals and the munitions makers. but it is said to make war obsolete. however. What I have just described. to have the absence of choice forced upon us. has become decisive. It is precisely the disproportion . where the old continuities and criteria no longer count. but rather the mental move that is made when.which the classical ’just war’ theory would forbid . where does that wrongness begin? Would it be wrong to destroy only ten percent? One percent? The other logical flaw is that when we argue about where an issue goes ’off the scale’ of traditional evaluation. it is not self-evident what that binds us to do next. but its impact is to demand that the matter be taken out of their hands. the ’force 45- Downloaded from http://sce. more convincingly tragic. than it would have been to be called to choice by the moral demand of a prophetic voice. For mainline thinkers of our time it apparently seems more profound. therefore deterrent threats of absolutely disproportionate destruction are in order. Other bishops (as we shall see) were saying at the same time that. being forced by events.To assume in this way that what we know about the values of the whole national system as political actor has more claims upon us (more evident? more compelling?) than the concrete local neighbour’s needs and the enemy’s just war rights. that guarantees the enemy will never push us to the brink. the politicians.between the enemy’s triggering threat and the ’massive retaliation’ with which we promise to respond. Having no choice. If we grant that making the entire globe unlivable would be absolutely wrong. For the ethicist. drawn from another frame of reference. 2008 . is a very secure way to take what sounds verbally like a strong moral position. is to carry to the nth degree a reasoning process which has been taken for granted since the constantinian turn taken by mainstream Christians in the fifth century. Developments from within the system bring the system to its limits.com at DUKE UNIV on November 25. is not any one or the sum total of all of those questiuns. American-stated nuclear policy is no longer as blunt as the language of former Secretary of State Dulles. in the face of all of them. as restated in the French Catholic bishops’ letter of 1983.sagepub. being too important to be left to the experts.
Brown.. philosophically and politically. including Ronald Reagan) from the dispensationalist’s interpretation of predictions in Ezekiel and Daniel about the battle at Armageddon.. and c) in their proximate political commitments. namely the liberties safeguarded by Anglo-Saxon political traditions. still holds to the view he first expressed in a symposium in 1980.sagepub. we must be able to run the risk of destroying civilization. in fact conservative Harold O. What is ’evangelical’ about this? It is not that Brown expects the stakes in the final showdown to be directly religious. In 1980 in fact he specified the protection of the energy supply of the West (by which he apparently meant American commercial access to Arab oil) as the ’line’ where a showdown might be called for. observers would classify their logic. What is ’evangelical’ about this for Brown is the dimension of motivation. b) in the way &dquo. That is then our age’s form. Systematic Theology and Ethics in Theology in Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. 13 to have at least some Christians in positions of not be ’kept in bondage by the fear of death’ as The NATO deterrence theory and the Methodists’ sweeping but vague rejection of the same exemplify the same logic. of apocalyptic? These two views are polar alternatives. the largest school of its kind in America’s Midwest. For the sake of the great value of human freedom. Each assumes without argument that if the stakes are absolute the validity of our judgment about means is self-evident. as defended by the Anglo-Saxon political order. can be advocated reasons. Therefore he is not afraid to risk thisworldly peace and survival for the sake of a transcendent value.J. Yet they mirror each other. today Professor of Biblical and evangelical. for us to risk annihilation rather than submit to it. for ourselves and everyone else. He draws his convictions not (as do some American fundamentalists. The munstruus evil of totalitarian communism must indeed be frightful . Frankly. I agree with Aleksandr Solzetiltsvn and will risk annihilation for myself and my country to defend our freedom. For this reason it is important authority.objective&dquo.for specifically Christian. It is that the believer knows that neither his own soul’s salvation nor the spiritual value of civilization is dependent upon thisworldly peace. is it not.com at DUKE UNIV on November 25. peuple who will Hebrews [2:15] puts it. Each assumes that a danger held to be infinite takes us off the scale of the more careful forms of moral discourse. said Brown. but from an evangelical variant of the political wisdom of Reinhold Niebuhr. (a) in terms of their own self-understanding.’2 Belief in the resurrection and in life beyond the grave enables us to risk the grave. 2008 . including ourselves. for the sake of the freedom (of political institutions) with which God has entrusted us. Both differ from ’business as usual’ in political 46 Downloaded from http://sce.
It cannot be my aim from within the ethicist’s role to attempt to sort out the intramural debate among the Scripture specialists. so that it appears rational. the functional definition of an apocalyptic As inadequate as each of these views is. no ethos of dialogue which they can share.sagepub. I have let my topic be defined by our contemporaries. stance. in truth. This innovation is neither quite as novel nor quite as productive of new wisdom as some of its advocates believe. and which they see as representative of the Jewish or Christian text they are reading at the time. which are not the level on which I am asked to serve today. from another mode which they can then be free to disavow.’ slough z 47 Downloaded from http://sce. RETRIEVING THE IDIOM OF APOSTOLIC APOCALYPTIC By way of introduction. or objectivity. whereas the latter is meaningless. in the light of an idiosyncratic unappealable self-evidence.thought by reasoning back from the claim to have reached the limits of the manageable system. The former we can understand. no wider community. They cannot talk to each other. Until recently Scripture scholars have usually been concerned. There is not common vocabulary. apocalyptic. I submit. usually quite transparently. each of whom has a slightly different way of defining and disentangling the concepts of prophecy. the terrain of our present concern. It has begun to be accepted and practised within the historical and exegetical disciplines. whereas ’apocalypse’ treats of the end of history. which they find palatable. nor quite as destructive as others fear. or to relegate to on Often the difference between what one can use and what one may off was held to be that ’eschatology’ (or ’prophecy’) deals with God active in history. proportionality. It is in fact the case that the plans currently being made in cold blood by superpower arms planners do call for wittingly and willingly letting the nuclear threat to civilization escalate off the scale of measurable and manageable values. We have so to speak been backed into wrestling with the challenge of apocalyptic rhetoric because our contemporaries do in fact speak that way. because we can transpose it credibly into modern terms. My thesis is however that we would do well so to wrestle other grounds. namely because. is for any age. The last decades have seen a growing readiness on the part of Scripture scholars to acknowledge that ancient texts are understood more authentically when seen more clearly in the context of the cultural setting in which they arose. they force us to face facts. Some propose that the apocalyptic strand can be set aside on the antiduity. to claim that the matter is closed. and eschatology. more widely than it is within theological ethics. even for ours. to distinguish one mode. out of the reach of the ordinary disciplines of reciprocity. the world and the Gospel need to be spoken of that way. 2008 . That.com at DUKE UNIV on November 25.
information not already known or accessible by more ordinary modes of perception. and self-evident. It is thus the emancipation of the study of ancient literatures from the control of scholastic theology which has expanded exponentially the space available for respectful reading. We often call a text or a world-view ’apocalyptic’ not so much because the writer claims just now 48 Downloaded from http://sce. (3) it was the product of the pressure of persecution. Another level of classification is that of content. 2008 . The author of a written text may announce that the text he or she is writing provides such an ’unveiling’ More otten the ’unveiling’ is reported by the text as having occurred in a vision or an audition which the writer has been given. assuming as both norm and fact that what the ancient texts say is the same as what we believe. which subsided as the churches settled in sociologically. A more adequate methodology would seem to be one which would let each genre speak for itself. ’unveil’. which later abated.sagepub. as if the clarification it offers were still needed. One level is the technical one of literary genre or cultural style. We should ask archaeological questions about the degree of confidence with which they claim to understand just what were having in a particular decade in a kind of social experience Ó particular corner of the ANE. (4) it finally issued in the heresy of montanism. grounds opening product peo le This insight is a commonplace. thereby itself to being refuted by events in the world. (6) 5 it approved of a violent fate for God’s enemies If we were to seek to converse with the Scripture specialists within their own guild. The challenge of honest scholarship is to find ways to let the text have some defence against our bending or screening it to fit our own meanings. An apocalyptic document is one which purports to some Simply. once articulated. Progress in archaeology and in the reading of ancient literature has begun to make us less defensive in the face of the strangeness of modes of expression which do not adjust to our own world-view. historical reading of those texts could never be really free to let them say what they originally said. wait until we have before us the whole sweep of the Scriptures and of our history since then. (2) it was the of dramatic first-generation ecstatic experiences. &dquo. letting the functions of sifting and synthesis. Yet credit Krister Stendahl for stating it first and most scholars keep saying it again. (5) it led to social withdrawal and quietism. and especially of evaluative judgment. As long as Scripture studies were subject to the discipline of scholastic theology. the term ’apocalyptic’ has carried taken-forgranted definitions on two levels. within and beyond the Hebrew and Christian canons For a long time already.that (1) it wrongly assumed an imminent parousia. we should need to ask methodological questions about whether it is fitting thus to let criteria of modern credibility govern the reading of ancient texts. It is within the context of that emancipation that Ernst K5semann has for a generation been rehabilitating the apocalyptic components of the ancient literature. 1 to reveal.com at DUKE UNIV on November 25.
being based in already known experience or in the event of the apocalyptic word itself. Jesus thought apocalyptically. 20 1 do not claim that retrieving the apocalyptic idiom will be by itself a to unlock otherwise lost truths.to have received a new revelation. For now we need somehow to deal with the significance of the entire ’Gestalt’. will correspond to the type. dispensable for purposes of definition? Rather than a binary choice there will be a scale of degrees which a given text. 2008 . the imminence of cosmic changes combining judgment and the the validation of the events of salvation. even if the literary or oral format of their presentation is rational. the presence of a (presently small or invisible) community bearing the message. Some of the substantive marks of an ’apocalyptic world-view’ in this sense are: - - - spatial dualism between the present world and another world (or heaven).com at DUKE UNIV on November 25. a temporal dualism between the present history and another age.sagepub. leaving none of its a components unsullied. no one mark alone will suffice. its call to faith. the call to the listeners/hearers to live in a style not conformed to the cosmos-shattering models of the - unique actors corrupt cosmos. My having begun with modern ’neo-apocalyptic’ witnesses. beasts) described as participating as it were - ’from outside’ in the historical process. One of the learnings which arise from considering transdisciplin. the corruption of the cosmos as a whole. Is one of these marks logically prior to the others? Which are fringe phenomena. demonstrating so to speak the vitality of the apocalyptic idiom from the limitexperiences of modern cosmology. but because in its content it sustains a view of the shape of reality which seems to us to be like that of the documents of an apocalyptic genre. as no scholar since Schweitzer denies. logically that in any setting where several components of complex symbol set can be cited as identifying marks. - set - impossibility of remedy by means of human effort in the terms by the present system. should not be understood as granting that apocalyptic as a genre belongs on the edge of the canon. without being able to detail the shadings of definability around the It is obvious a edges. matter-of-fact. travel to or from heaven or hell. (angels. sharing today in suffering and destined to share in the coming fulfilment. - - unveiling. or a given community’s view. It is rather that (in a setting where others are already using the apocalyptic mode) to reinstate the apocalyptic component of the Gospel may provide correctives at points where an immanentized hope in Christendom had robbed us of the capacity to discern bad news or to bring good.1r~J saving key 49 Downloaded from http://sce.
which we do well to look at first. It is thus without apology that an essay like this must accept the challenge of selectivity.the for another. we can then choose to accredit fragments of wisdom from other worlds of meaning. but none of them would shake us or save us. in the architectonic sense that first of all there must be some kind of closure or synthesis in the one ’more basic’ realm before the next one can build upon it. that is only because it can be purged of unacceptable shades of meaning. Each ’higher’ level of interpretation must in real community experience go on before the ’lower’ levels of work have been concluded. rather than waiting for ’assured results’. we must accept that the zvay in which the higher levels can appropriate the underlying materials must always be a risky process of premature selection.. is the one technically called ’modernist’. that is the case. however. What would be the shape of the thoroughly non-apocalyptic stance held by those who look at ’apocalypticism’ from outside? Can we reverse the already itemized marks and attain a formal description of an ’ordinary’ or 50 Downloaded from http://sce. we should have simplified things greatly. If we should choose to retrieve this or that mythic image from its apocalyptic setting. It as assumes basically adequate a contemporary rationalist and humanistic meaning system. Biochemistry must stand still before we can do genetics on its shoulders. What the non-technician in the reading of specialized literatures can seek to bring to the conversation bridging the distance between exegesis and modern political ethics is an awareness of the rules of transdisciplinary dialogue as a discipline in its own right.. ’Apocalypticism’ as a global frame of reference is then unacceptable by definition. Literary criticism must do its job before we can do exegesis. 2008 . As a Christian ethicist.sagepub. One has no choice but to evaluate the contribution of apocalyptic to ethics before others have settled on its role in the canon. and that not only because they never will be concluded. As obvious as this architectonic ordering seems. or to the unfinished debate about whether specific ideas were original (or ’distinctive’) back dialogue as itself a quasi-discipline is that we are helped to escape long-dominant assumption that one discipline is foundational then. exegesis must have reached solid conclusions before theology can use the Bible .. If it should be satisfactory. One honest answer. To ask what believers in the late twentieth century can appropriate of the message of an ancient text is not necessarily subordinate to the historians’ scepticism about who wrote a given text. it is a mistake. Atomic physics is the basis for physical chemistry. My listing of those perspectives cannot be exhaustive. One way to test such a view would be to take it consistently. If. With that as a grid. I should be asking the question posed to believing communities centuries after the apostles by the presence of indubitably apocalyptic texts in our canon. and therefore in our liturgies and our imagination.2’ The axioms underlying our post-enlightenment deprecation of the apocalyptic mode can be critiqued from several directions.com at DUKE UNIV on November 25. abandoning any notion of completeness or conclusiveness.
a correspondence or replication of some simple quasi-mechanical kind. with no intervention from beyond.&dquo. 51 Downloaded from http://sce.sagepub. narratively.’reasonable’ modern view of things? Would a normal world-view know for sure that the cosmos is unspoiled? That it is closed.Is it possible to specify certain elements of the ’apocalyptic’ world-view which might in their setting be held to be not odd or irrational.com at DUKE UNIV on November 25. or specific elements of it. which we might with proper care appropriate? In saying ’appropriate’ I intentionally avoid terms like ’transpose’ or ’translate’. There is not and has never been within Christianity a single sober. then. in the past history as her own history. in order to study its oddity as we do an exotic culture. images like ’grid’ or ’lens’. but also thanks to her poets and prophets. As that story becomes her own story she retrieves the posture of her precursor generations and discovers in her own setting something quite original yet essentially like what the faith had meant before. to distinguish between valid and less valid or false forms of it?23 . in linguistic operation. There must after all have been some context in which the documents of an apocalyptic genre. but rather appropriate reactions to the way the world really is? Do the contemporary styles we began with fit in such a mould? . not to ask a priori how to play off an ’apocalyptic’ cosmology as a whole against ’reality’. univercontrast with which sally self-evident rational base line a constitutes Some of the marks of departure. I suggest that it brings together the following questions of method: . To rephrase after these introductory thoughts the question underlying my present assignment. We should rather investigate in what setting the ’apocalyptic’ vision of things. be an appropriate specimen with which to assess a criteriology for the comparative evaluation of apocalyptic stances? What might it then be about the visions of history which made sense for the early witnesses. ’Modernity’ as a label for something clear seems to be a firm concept mostly in the minds of those who today doubt its adequacy or welcome its passing. within the acceptance of ’apocalyptic’ as one fitting mode of moral discourse. no radical change in its structures. to establish criteria. ’apocalyptic’ thought what such a system might be are recognizable within what some call ’modernity’. would it be possible. as the early Christians seem to have done. would make sense. solid. We do better. in which our contemporaries are already speaking apocalyptically. as if there might be a rather formal cosmology. but some are not.Should that be the case. and no divisions within it being conceivable? That human action can control history’s outcome? That a uniform ethos for all kinds of people is possible and desirable? That the language of divine agency is meaningless? To ask the question thus bluntly is almost to have answered it.Should that be the case. It is rather that the believing community today participates imaginatively. including the cosmology they presuppose. thanks to her historians. might the present state of the arms race. communicated coherently. 2008 .
the very small.THE REOPENED EDGES OF THE COSMOS .2’ begins and ends with references to the breakdown in our generation of the Western vision of progress. As the natural sciences had since the Enlightenment served as model for the human sciences. which thought that all of reality can be encompassed. 26 That is evidently true. but they did it in ways affording little substantial help for ethics.. Every effort to character52 Downloaded from http://sce. Paul Hanson of Harvard. but it has much to do with our readiness to comprehend. the hermeneutic insights of the sociology of knowledge. however. Even the natural sciences are transcending their fantastically fruitful traditional reliance on mathematical and mechanical models. history and the arts as well.com at DUKE UNIV on November 25. now it is the breakdown or the limits of the system-immanent models from which the rest of culture borrows.. which we call futurology. Western intellectuals are impressed by the breakdown of the selfconfidence with which Occidentals have identified our self-esteem with the progress of our entire cultural enterprise.sagepub. we can essay a restatement of how those modes may help us to see things ’as they really are’. The industry of innerworldly apocalyptic. the very ancient. within any one discipline. with no gaps or leftovers. Now.z5 Some have suggested that ’vision’ or ’imagination’ characterizes the unique contribution of the apocalyptic genre. when handling the very large. I submit now that by juxtaposing the moral challenge of the arms race.. The globe’s water and air no longer can be drawn on as infinite life-giving reservoirs. as contrasted to ’virtue’ or ’law’ governing other moral models. in favour of uncertainty.LIVING AN ALTERNATIVE WORLD Most of the disciplines which challenge our intellect and most of the arts which feed our spirits have today come to the end of the encyclopaedists’ vision. in his study of Old Testament and intertestamental apocalyptiCS. but it is rather a label for a problem than an explanation. Whether North Atlantic bourgeois culture is either intellectually or physically convincing should have in principle nothing to do with what was going on in the early Christian centuries. 2008 . began a generation ago by very confidently extrapolating recent trends into the next century. and the objective presence within the Western cultural canon of apocalyptic modes of communication. Both NATO fundamentalism in the face of the Soviet threat and liberal survivalism in the face of the nuclear menace are instances of the breakdown of a mode of reasoning which had seemed adequate before. It is a demonstration of that modern relativizing of system-immanent models when in the two specimens of thought about the nuclear challenge with which we began we see sober ethical statements being made which burst the bonds of system-immanent normalcy. it attends to the system-immanent ceilings and thresholds beyond which trends cannot possibly continue. Romanticism and existentialism have tried before to loosen the lid which rationalistic explanations had tried to fasten on the world of the possible.
The characterization is made less formal and empty if we ask in each case what difference the genre makes for the place of Caesar’s sovereignty within God’s purpose. BEFORE CONSTANTINE: AFTER CHRISTENDOM One component of such a ’deconstruction’ which the early seers applied to the rulers of Rome and which we can apply to our own Caesars. It is performative proclamation. 28 . 27 Rasmussen quotes Paolo Freire: in order for the oppressed to be able to wage the struggle for liberation. Neither of these slogan phrases is derived first of all from the realm of social ethics. 2008 . thereby being subject to challenge both as realism and as ideal. and how the oppressed &dquo. The first word in the reaffirmation of the human dignity of the oppressed is thus to constitute in their celebrative life the coming Rule of God and a new construal of the cosmos under God. A community playing the victim role within a society needs first of all to know not what they would do differently if they were rulers.29 Eusebius made Constantine a saviour figure. Rasmussen gathers the strands of his characterization of what the apocalyptic critique attacks under the heading ’triumphalism’. is not mere poetry. and ever since then popular piety has been ready to ascribe to the ruler or to the ’nation’ a privileged role. Some superficial liberationism falls into a too simple appropriation of Freire’s point. Larry Rasmussen proposes to borrow a term from another field. but that the present power constellation which oppresses them is not the last word. but as a limiting situation they can transform. in naively ideological Marxist terms. but we can move on from what they say to make that connection.com at DUKE UNIV on November 25. they must perceive the reality of oppression not as a closed world from which there is no exit. nor how to seize power.. as did the early communities whose hymnody is reflected in the first vision of John.the reality of oppression&dquo. will be to dismantle the notion that the ruler is the primary agent of divine movement in history. in 53 Downloaded from http://sce.ize the distinctiveness of the genre uses another key phrase.sagepub. Yet the point remains valid.can transform their world&dquo. reaching beyond their own territory. Douglas John Hall links it with the older Lutheran denunciation of what he calls a ’theology of glory’.. It is possible to describe both &dquo. suggesting that what the apocalyptic perspective enables the believing community to do is to ’deconstruct’ the self-evident picture of how things are which those in power use to explain that they cannot but stay that waxy. It redefines the cosmos in a way prerequisite to the moral independence which it takes to speak truth to power and to persevere in living against the stream when no reward is in sight. To sing ’The Lamb is Worthy to Receive Power’.
It works in analyzing statistically phenomena like markets. One of components is the claim that the moral requirements of officeholders be ’realistically’ adjusted.com at DUKE UNIV on November 25. in order to enable them to discharge the duties of office. Colonel North. and knowledge of God’s revealed will qualify them to do the work exceptionally well. The apocalyptic critique. Reinhold Niebuhr has said it in another. This assumes either that a monarch. will be converted and will authentically revolutionize his political ethic. 311 Seldom are those divine purposes so as to include reconciling enemies or empowering victims. since the reason for the applicability of the demands is not that the rulers are representative ers Here the constantinian logic reveals an internal contradiction. its must of the power of the political office which they possess.&dquo. calls rulers back to the modesty of the internal ordering assigned to empire by Romans 13. where most of the players act ’naturally’ by the same rules. 2008 . authorizing to the Christian in ’office’ levels of selfishness and violence not otherwise considered good. or else that believers in the exercise of their democratic rights have the power (both the numbers and the unity) to dictate what the state will do. by demythologizing the kings’ imperial pretensions. Martin Luther said this in one way. sanctification. they will be filled by persons of lesser moral integrity. Logically these two theses contradict each other. moral and statutory. This axiom underlies all proportionate moral reasoning. Social science sobriety suffices to show us that neither of these construals is normally true to the facts. conceived us: A second component will be to doubt the axiom that Caesar is one of i. Thirdly. By 54 Downloaded from http://sce. A second which we saw in the Brown quotation . who will do it worse. that God-fearing people have more right to violate the laws. because we see things whole and intervene ’responsibly’.sagepub. as in the self-image of America’s recent media hero. The only way to reconcile them would be to claim.e. Such deterministic thinking has served us well in the natural sciences. than do the heathen. The axiom of systemic causative perspicuity is part of the legacy of the enlightenment in its most sanguine phases.is the claim that if public offices are not filled by Christians whose regeneration. the apocalyptic consciousness may free us to live without the myth of a complete systemic causal overview of how all that we do will work out for the best. already sovereign. Whenever otherwise undesirable means are justified on the grounds of the ends they serve. The apocalyptic vision would free us to go on proclaiming the demands of divine righteousness without being stopped by the argument that no-one in office is heeding or teaching.achieving God’s world purposes. that the linkage between the church’s moral insights and effective historical change must be made through the exercise by baptized believ- believer. the indispensable prior assumption is that we all understand with relatively high levels of certainty how the causative nexus works. and to some extent in understanding the individual personality in the local family setting.
without stopping to challenge them all with equal fullness: a) that Caesar is the privileged mover of history.com at DUKE UNIV on November 25. 32 The challenge addressed here to the kind of pragmatic politics which often calls itself ’realistic’ is not a sweeping denial of consequential modes of reasoning. Yet if the cosmos is not closed. I have identified four facets of our culture’s way of reasoning morally. The document-bound modes of historiography. The present point is a more modest argument: it is that the consequential mode of moral evaluation is appropriate to a setting where the agents dispose of considerable power over events and far-reaching knowledge of the pertinent causal connections. The internal rationality of consequential reasoning is destroyed when immense multi-actor systems render deceptive any justifications of actions on the grounds of expected results. Yet consequential reasoning depends for its coherence upon the relative certainty with which it projects alternative outcomes. to make any sense at all of particular choices upon which particular outcomes are held to depend. the object-bound modes of archaeology. It is part of the structure of historical existence. the pragmatic case for war as the lesser evil falls. Any meaning-system which ’explains’ events in terms like ’cause’.sagepub. This unpredictability is not a fluke nor an information gap soon to be filled. 55 Downloaded from http://sce. has to assume that the whole system can be reliably known. There would be good arguments to that effect&dquo. quite independently of the present theme. If the systemic determinism whereby the bomb-rattlers propose to control all of history is not convincing. b) that Caesar is a Christian to whose professional needs the otherwise valid Christian moral rules should be adjusted. Predictability of consequences is the presumption subjacent to consequential justification for doing evils (which it is hoped will be ’lesser’) to attain goods (which it is promised will be ’greater’). because the approximation to omniscience which their projections presuppose is wrong both as to facts and as to mechanism. The mechanical models of physics acknowledge iii their OWIl terms thresholds of uncertainty for the very small. and the grammar-bound modes of literary interpretation are all in agreement today to back away from the visions of encyclopaedic adequacy with which two centuries ago they were hoping to clear things up. Such considerations have led sages like Hannah Arende4 and George Kennan15 to call for an ethos of means. in order to explain choices in terms like ’consequences’. we shall perceive more readily and invent more creatively the alternative means of conflict management capable of healing those relationships which reciprocal menaces tend to destroy. The collapse of the epistemological optimism of the encyclopaedist vision thus revokes the closing of the cosmos with which modernity began. and still less when they are to deceive each other. 2008 . Yet by defillitioll no mode of knowing the system can claim infinite applicability.the nature of the numerous equipped case it cannot work as well in larger settings where actors work at cross purposes.
sagepub. churches. Their applicability to the justifications given for the nuclear threat is obvious. from the bondage of modernity’s myths. which since the fourth century trained Christian teachers to think with rulers more than with ViCtiMS. militant non-co-operation. as he was not in the first century. 37 It is that the hymnic vision of a cosmos smaller than the God who made it and sent His son and us to redeem it will relativize both the gloomy and the confident determinisms to which we have been captive. is the key not only to some kind of ahistorical salvation but to JHWH’s righteousness in the world is what frees us from the cult of Caesars old and new. whether that grid be advocated under the rubric of ’creation’.31 What an apocalyptic vision will contribute is not that we substitute (as fundamentalism does) a literal reading of the scheme of Ezekiel. or of Mark 13 or of John of Patmos. as well as from unthinking reaction to them. that the value-system Here I have stated these axioms quite formally. and the models of community maintenance which have kept Jews and Baptists and authentic Orthodox believers in the Soviet Union morally more powerful than the party. or of ’hope’ If the church is not (or is no longer) ’established’. they do not obtain any more in the twentieth century than they did in the second. Why then has it been so easy to take them for granted for generations? This. of ’redemption’. 38 If Caesar is not the most celebrated member of the believing community.c) that the global social process can be known. we shall not filter the moral guidelines derived from the faith through the grid of whether someone committed to satisfying an electorate and administering the state can live up to them all.com at DUKE UNIV on November 25. I submit. In pure logic and in simple fact. with certainty adequate to base upon it consequential judgments which justify casuistically doing specific harm to d) of Christians is represented with sufficient cultural force and numbers that there will be no deep clash between Christian moral commitments and what ’all people of Good Will’ can discern to be good. for the scenarios of the Pentagon. is the logical outworking of the posture of establishment. If Caesar is not the only mover of history. of ’history’. in both their despairing and their presumptuous forms. as is their contradicting the conditions in which apocalyptic arose. 2008 . The paradoxical testimony that the cross. not the crown. and the blacks in South Africa to survive under the Boers. specific adversaries. It is not that we will overdramatize the church/world clash in a time when or in places where in fact that clash has been mitigated in some respects by favourable cultural changes. so that Christian moral insight can be transposed without remainder into binding guidance for everyone. or which have enabled Christian communities in China to outlive Mao and the Red Guards. and is not today. as a causal nexus. we shall place more hope in non-imperial strategies and tactics: voluntary associations. either by dominating 56 Downloaded from http://sce.
If on the other hand we ask ’how might war or the threat of war be justified?’ there is not one sober way to argue an affirmative answer. . The debate is as old as Caiaphas’ reason for delivering Jesus. This notion of possible universal validation by common consent is the legacy of a time when either ethnic and linguistic homogeneity or the dominance of a specific 61ite made it possible to go on thinking that ’can we expect everyone to agree?’ is a normal way to phrase the truth question. or at least their respect. Physical claims must be validated by the experimental method.g. namely to claim that we are responsible to govern history. in settings where those recourses obtain. months and years ahead of any projected deployment 39 and when the greater good one claims to serve is so absolutized that there is not a sacrifice one would not make in society numerically or by possessing privileged status. That presumption that there is in history a degree of perspecuity sufficient to warrant our becoming the judges between our neighbours’ interests and our own.) eschew electoral participation. or at least our submitting to their mode of validation. BUT CAN WE ASK PEOPLE TO BELIEVE THAT? Our experience has taught us to assume that the assent of others. 40 From the fact that in these ways the believing community distinguishes between the values which guide discipleship and those which may find effective implementation in the civil community it does not by any means follow that believers are unconcerned from the civil realm. If the assigned question had been ’what is wrong with the arms race?’ there would have been many other perspectives to include. is that the calculation of the trade-off is done in cold blood. is part of what the apocalyptic vision strikes down. parliamentary politicking or lobbying. the first we its name. historical claims by documents. is a precondition to our own right to hold to what we believe. The particular challenge I address here to the ’lesser evil’ argument is not a demand for ahistorical purity which would (e. 2008 . taking innocent metropolitan populations hostage to nuclear terror in the name of the rule of law. thereby escalating the argument into an apocalyptic mode.sagepub. implications of belief through the question of whether they demand more ’saintliness’ or ’moral heroism’ than can be asked of ordinary people. What increases its weight and its dubiety. What I challenge here is action taken against the stated principles of one’s system for the sake (allegedly) of a greater good: a colonel lying to the President and Congress in order to defend democracy.57- Downloaded from http://sce.com at DUKE UNIV on November 25. that they have nothing to say to it or that they withdraw from it. matters of high culture by the experts and of popular culture by the media marketplace. by doing ’lesser evils’ to prevent ’greater evils’.as she was not in not feel filter the moral shall to obligated century. in the light of our adequate knowledge of how history works.
for points needing clarification. with the identity commitments which the early messianic synagogues were already most sure about. 4 "It is more and more agreed that the concept of a ’just war’ is an anachronism": editorial entitled ’On "Absolute" Morality’.true as that is: we still sing. 475) of his King-Hall Hall. I thank the Society for the freedom to narrow it in the way that seemed most provocative. New York. The Apocalyptic Premise. 2008 . p. in a literary genre different from the other apostolic writings but in an an old and familiar vocabulary. American edition Nyack NY. and with their pentecostal conviction that the meaning of the Father and the Son would continue to be actualized in their own worship and mission. 3 Stephen King-Hall. 58 Downloaded from http://sce. Washington. their minority status and their powerlessness not the Resurrection of the slain Lamb. Ethics and Public Policy Center. 1958.community thinking in ’apocalyptic’ They have accepted only as facts but as their epistemological condition. It resonated with their Jewish monotheism confessing only one ultimate mover of history. the members of terms do not thus count on everyone’s agreement. They are unembarrassed by the fact that the ideas they hold would not convince others.-H. is now challenged. Richard Harries. K.. A remaining segment of our task in interpreting the apocalyptic mode is then to ask how ’validation’ must look when ’the consensus of all reasonable people’ may not be appealed to. for whom Christ is not sitting at the Right Hand. One comes to it by sharing the life of those who sing about a By definition. The point that apocalyptic makes is not only that people who wear crowns and who claim to foster justice by the swords are not as strong as they think . at Wycliffe some indicating of the Newsletter.sagepub. Lefever (ed. Services Ltd. ’0 where are Kings and Empires now of old that went and came?’ It is that people who bear crosses are working with the grain of the universe.. Fellowship. 2 Ernest W. respondent.).A. with their messianic trust that the way of the cross had ultimately to be the way for the world. I thank the Rt Rev. 19 1 Paper presented by invitation to the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics. Visser ’t Hoof (ed. One does not come to that belief by reducing social process to mechanical and statistical models. Defence in the Nuclear Age. nor by winning some of one’s battles for the control of one’s own corner of the fallen world. The First Assembly of the World Council of Churches.). represents those who reject in principle any challenge to routine ’realistic’ modes of thought. The first prominent statement of the idea that the just war tradition (JWT) is outmoded may well have been that of the 1948 Amsterdam First Assembly of the World Council of Churches: "In these circumstances the tradition of a just war . What accredits a prophetic word is not its demonstrable control of events but its coherence with the already known story." ’Report of Section IV’ in W. 2. Why did the first hearers or readers of the messages of Ezekiel or Daniel listen? Why did the first readers of John’s apocalypse respect it? Because it resonated. The originally assigned topic was ’Armaments and Eschatology’. September 1987. King-Hall’s first statement to the effect that "Total war has abolished itself" was written in the 16 August 1945 issue (No. WorldView.com at DUKE UNIV on November 25. Oxford. 1982. June 1959.
Macmillan. p. The Methodist bishops do not argue the truth of these assumptions. 40 in Donald Durnbaugh (ed. 1957. Wayne Meeks in his The First Urban Christians. London. June 1980 pp. (d) that we must find some other as yet unknown better way of thinking. S. Survivalism is also used as a term of reproach by George Weigel. 59 Downloaded from http://sce. Oxford. 89. argue that the nuclear issue should not be seen ecologically. 135ff. 26. 453). The possible meanings of such meet the criteria of the JWT but war may still be justified as politically inevitable although sinful. The same can be done from the base of contemplative spirituality (Bernard preaching the crusades). 1984 pp. 12 It seems not to need to be argued how/why Anglo-Saxon democratic ’freedom’ is less a value than is ’peace’. Cf. Brethren Press. The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity.). the critical response of Paul Ramsey and Stanley Hauerwas. That demonstrates how recent is the prominence of this perspective. can p. in which the ’integrity of creation’ is to stand in complementary tension with ’justice’ and ’peace’. is more careful but is guided by much the same vision of what being sure would mean or what it would take. the fullest conservative criticism of where the American Catholic bishops’ thought on peace is going. are sure one can be quite clear about the details of the early churches’ setting. most people guilty of perpetrating both are non-apocalyptic. 1986. ET edited by James V.com at DUKE UNIV on November 25. 10 Cf. cf. 16ff. Philadelphia Fortress.).J. had it been a lively theme at the time. 8 The use of ’creation’ as code term for the ecological agenda has been reinforced by the current World Council of Churches study process.. Schall. 1987. Notre Dame. Nashville. 14 For a picture of the ’new wave’ of writings seeking to interpret ’apocalyptic’. although 16 People like Gerd Theissen. The planning for nuclear holocaust is being done by ’realists’. Press. He did not. Secker and Warburg. if they had would hardly have agreed with Brown that the ’fear of death’ which kept given it the Hebrews in bondage in Egypt was their scruples about destroying civilization. 15 It is of course possible for fanatics to use apocalyptic as an excuse for violence: cf. or with the language of Niebuhrian realism. An apocalyptic who believes that the Lamb is Lord will not glorify violence. 101-120. Speak up for Just War or Pacifism!. The primary impetus for this centring on the biological threat was Jonathan Schell’s bestseller. however. He would have. a thought. 1978. Loyola University Press. New York. Chicago. The evangelical editors of the monthly Eternity. Its adequacy as a new and qualitatively more decisive angle has been doubted by Methodists Stanley Hauerwas (132-168 in his Against the Nations ) and William Williamson ("The people who believe the bomb is our only hope and the people who believe that doing away with the bomb is our only hope have much in common". 5 This is the gist of the ’double effect’ theory of the modern Catholic pastoral tradition. Avon. in his Tranquillitas Ordinis. Norman Cohn. thought " Richard John Neuhaus wrote in 1971 a pamphlet In Defense of People. not the genre. 1978. attacking nature romantics and malthusians. London and University Village. (c) that there are some questions concerning which the JWT and pacifism need not disagree. they simply take them for granted. Doing Evil to Achieve Good. It is noteworthy that the critics of the apocalyptic mode blame it for both social passivity and for massacre. Pennsylvania State University Press. (b) that no war The Fate of the Earth. a On Earth Pence. San Francisco. however. ’thisworldly’ 13 Eternity. pp. The more biblical alternative to such ’establishment’ assumptions would be not social withdrawal but a more critically discernform of prophetic presence. 7 In Defense of Creation: The Nuclear Crisis and a Just Peace. also p. ’The Constantinian Sources of Western Social Ethics’ in my The Priestly Kingdom. Yale Univ. Graded Press. Susceptibility to such abuse is. What justifies violence is the substance communicated. 6 morally. UND Press. ing 11 ’Winning the Peace’. logically valid but no modern war statement are several: (a) that the JWT is can live up to its requirements.sagepub. not peculiar to that genre. most fully discussed in Richard McCormick and Paul Ramsey (eds. 6 May 1986. below note. 2008 .Harper. The Christian Century. 1983. 1982. New Haven. 1988. Joint Pastoral Letter of the French Bishops. 1949. The Pursuit of the Millennium. 1985. New York. Ignatius Press. 1982. Elgin. in ’The Things That Make for Peace’. New York.
presented to Bonhoeffer section of the American Academy of Religion. P. especially one which challenges our mental habits. for people with a certain background in a certain kind of situation. Zadeh. A. but he does not help us to find what might count as the ’truth’ of such a word. 23 The way my exposition began with a contemporary dilemma may have seemed to grant that having to admit the claims of another genre. revised edition 1979. ’Non-Cantorian Set Theory’. 102. Nashville. 26 Roy Branson. however. Abingdon. New York. What I cannot admit is that a decision against the ancient genre be made a priori without first encountering the texts empathetically. a setback. pp. pp. yet still permits a central definition: cf. the only way the victim can see the end of tyranny is as the end of the world as it is. in contrast to ’eschatology’ or ’prophecy’. but as Benjamin Ollenburger shows ’What Krister Stendahl "meant" &mdash. cited by permission. I.. pp.I have not attempted to document here the learnings from a growing flood of syntheses by Scripture scholars pointing in the same direction. 7) with the mode of simply listing as definition of apocalypse a number of notions found in such literature. 34. Kaufmann. 18 Wayne Meeks in his ’Understanding New Testament Ethics’.semann. 1975. Justice and High Tech Medicine.. his dissatisfaction with ’borrowing’ (over against sources within Judaism) as an explanation. is a concession. It conceals semantic problems that are not immediately evident nor easily resolved. 1987. 1967. SCM/Fortress. p. yet there is much to gain. a loss of substance. ’The Beginnings of Christian Theology’. a notion losing credibility with change) and one of prudence (assuming full knowledge of causal connections and the possession of power). Roy Branson. and his respect for the genre in its own right. Loma Linda University Press. 23 November 1986. Cohen. The standard account of moral reasoning says that one must choose between (or combine) an ethic of principles (claiming timeless validity rooted in the nature of things. 19 "Apocalyptic was the mother of all Christian Theology": Ernst Kä. I do not claim that either of those modes can be dispensed with. 418-432.J. 338-353. and of ’myth’ are so broadly used as not to provide much guidance to one who would ask about the ethical appropriation of apocalyptic in the late twentieth century. by asking what they leave out that belongs (a) to the canon and (b) to the real world. 21 One very careful contribution to the understanding of apocalyptic in the Jewish experience is that of Paul Hanson in his The Birth of Apocalypse. 1986. 28 Paulo Freire. especially Jacques Ellul. His categories of ’vision versus reality’. including our own. 25 I shall be drawing without detailed acknowledgement upon recent work of colleagues. 22 My doubting that ’modernism’ will work globally does not mean rejecting any of the specific points at which the meaningfulness of ancient texts must face challenges in postBiblical cultures. It is self-evident on one level. an enrichment rather than a loss. ’Bonhoeffer and the Public Vocation of an Eschatological Community’. and Douglas John Hall. Fortress. That is true only literally. 2008 . Contemporary’. The opposite is the case. Vol. 27 Larry Rasmussen. 20 Semanticists speak of ’bounded sets’ as those in which all members are defined by the same marks. 1962. Introduction to the Theory of Fuzzy Subsets. Ca. Dictionary. 17 105. Loma Linda. in Horizons in Biblical Theology.. L. ’Biblical Theology. 61-98. When tyranny seems to dominate the world. A Normative Critique of "Descriptive Biblical Theology" ’. in James Walters (ed. 104-106. restates the distinction as if it were self-evident. of ’fuzzy sets’ where multiplicity of marks prevents firm outside borders. article. Information and Control. p. Scientific American 217.). ’Apocalypse and the Moral Imagination’. and Hersch R. Academic Press. and any survival beyond that as a 60 Downloaded from http://sce. 1965. 8/1. in New Testament Questions of Today. I must leave to his professional peers to evaluate his high level of trust in the utility of liturgical modes of analysis and in the formative impact of Deutero-Isaiah. London/Philadelphia. pp. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 3-11. cit. He validates apocalyptic as not a crazy way to think. Atlanta. unpublished. pp.sagepub. Journal of Biblical Literature. June 1986. Larry Rasmussen.H.I applaud Hanson’s impatience (p. Some are listed by Branson (next note). 1969. in Interpreter’s Bible Vol.com at DUKE UNIV on November 25. Philadelphia. 24 Op. ’Fuzzy Sets’. His work does not answer our questions. I reported at the outset that one way to disqualify apocalypse (which one rejects. 8. which one accepts) has been to say that it portrays not history but the end thereof.Krister Stendahl.
Cf. 1983. North Newton. Nyack and Scottdale. That should hardly make its social message untranslatable. sometimes gentium ’the inherent mechanism of a social structure’ as a sociological claim.g. 31 Jomes Smylie. with both the end and the beginning demanding divine intervention. Scottdale. or of the thresholds beyond which one’s sense-making instruments do not work is not abdication but a higher level of rationality. 1969. 33-44. as ’modernity’ would assume. 32 in What Would You Do?.com at DUKE UNIV on November 25. On Violence. Vo. pp. Herald Press. 4ff. 1969. Each definition calls for a different kind of argument. ’emergency’. in Paul Peachey (ed. New York. 14ff. The of readiness with modern technology mocks that criterion. To take account of the limits of one’s information.resurrection. ’The Christian Church and National Ethos’. Such a systemic dualism as would refuse the vote or reject public social services need not follow. also in her Crises of the Republic. and Christian arguments challenging its disregard for notions of divine sovereignty or command. institutionalizing 40 The appeal to general agreement has several meanings. Faith and Life Press. Cf. The first systematic statement of the limits of what nuclear weapons can do was made as we saw by a hardnosed military scientist (note 2above). pp.sagepub. not a mere peacekeeper. note 10 above. 159ff.. 29 To deny that Caesar is Gud’s preferred instrument is not to relegate him or his world to the devil.) the defence of religious liberty. ’Foreign Policy and Christian Conscience’. limited government. Fellowship Publications. May1959. sometimes’what most people would agree with if asked’. Atlantic Mouthly. I stated in a popular vein the dependence of the case for violence upon a debateable consequentialism. Jovanovich. Harcourt Brace. 1972. 1963. pp. Cf. Herald. pp. 39 The just war tradition calls for ’last resort’ as one of its standard criteria. my Christian Witness to the State. pp. cf. inaugurating a new age. 203. 105ff. 36 61 Downloaded from http://sce. Walter Wink’s forthcoming work Engaging the Powers. 44-49. Constantine was a saviour figure. Scottdate. 1989? 38 The above paragraphs moke clear that the apocalyptic vision does not mean a denial of political rationality. 35 George Kennan. No. Fortress. 2008 . ’Nature’ is one of the frequent code words for the entire approach. the franchise.. pp. 5. overlapping but distinct Sometimes it means ’the universal consensus of all cultures’ (what the ancients called jus the ).in my The Original Revolution. 1974. government Recent interpreters of violence in the interest of justice speak of it as ’last resort’ or That is not the vision with which the mediaeval synthesis was inaugurated.). Harcourt Brace. Nonetheless the fundamental dualism remains valid at other points where neither moral nor institutiunal progress can be claimed. ’Instead of Efficacy’. sometimes ’the intrinsic meaning of a concept’ as a linguistic claim. 34 New York. Neither the early Christians nor minority Christians since then have simply identified with Satan. 37 Well-known over-simple statements of the dualism are those of William Stringfellow and Vernard Eller. etc. Biblical Realism Confronts the Nation. To take seriously the basic validity of the apocalyptic stance need not imply disrespect for the concrete values attained by democratic government in (e. 33 There are metaethical arguments challenging the implicit deontologies behind consequentialism.
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