A dash of cold water for Christian anarchism

A community garden Credit: marya, http://www.flickr.com/photos/emdot/488890709/

We each have our ministry.

Some serve tasty meals in homes brimming with hospitality. Some offer helping hands to those currently down and out. I pour cold water on people’s heads, and that’s what I’m going to do here.

This image, I trust, is more redemptive than it may first appear. Yes, if you’re having a fine rally with friends, everybody is agreeing with everybody else on matters of great import and both hopes and spirits are running high, the last thing you want is some fuddy-duddy raining on your parade.

Yet if you’re over-excited, maybe even fevered, and your enthusiasm is driving you to extremes, then a splash of cold water might be just what you want. The best shower I ever took in my life was after a hockey game in which we worked very hard to protect a very bad goalie. The ancient water system was broken in the dressing room and only cold water poured out from the shower heads. Overheated as I was, I stepped in and let ‘er rip. It was a blast of instant refreshment. That’s how you’re going to feel once you’ve read what I have to say. Or maybe just irritated. Let’s see, shall we?

Christian anarchism has many attractions for someone like me, among them a spirit of elite alienation from what Most People think and do, a sense of (self-)righteousness, a validation of raging frustration, and a simple solution to the most major and vexing of problems – from economic injustice to political oppression to spiritual deadness to terrorism. “Why can’t we just – ?” is the anarchist’s favourite sentence stem.

I once was, myself, a – well, not a Christian anarchist. But in my university years, I read Jacques Ellul and John Howard Yoder (both of whom I was later to teach, and with the latter of whom I enjoyed several good conversations and a leisurely lunch). I read other Christian pacifists. And, under the influence of my British Marxist professor of European intellectual history, I read some of the classic authors in the genealogy of anarchist thought, such as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, Charles Fourier and Georges Sorel. Later, I would read Daoist classics and along the way kept bumping into authors valued by this or that anarchist, from Thomas More to Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

How could a young person help but be attracted to such thinking? Stupid, selfish middle-aged people had spoiled much of the world and were busy exploiting what was left of it – when they weren’t constructing elaborate (but transparent) ideologies to rationalize and justify their rapacity and abuse of the innocent. I knew my heart was pure – or, at least, a lot purer than theirs. So throw out the oppressors! Free the goodness locked away by alienating structures! Let a thousand flowers bloom! Ecrasez l’infâme!

Jesus, I clearly saw (and clear-sightedness is one of the benefits of this point of view), collaborated with no institution and endorsed no regime. His gospel was a message of creative freedom, individual dignity and mutual responsibility and care. He and his disciples enjoyed tramping about the countryside, living on the margins, engaging people as they found them, giving to each according to his or her need. Small was, indeed, beautiful.

So why in the world wouldn’t we do the same?

Two reasons: We aren’t Jesus. And living just like Jesus doesn’t get done what Jesus wants done.

First, the “not being Jesus” part. One of the crucial features of most Anabaptist thought is what church historians call (without negative connotation) primitivism: an understandable longing to go back to the days of Jesus in Galilee that translates into a hermeneutic that places Jesus’ career as the guiding light of how we ought to live today. Of course, the tradition of imitatio christi is a long and justified one. But imitation of Jesus is not a straightforward matter. Jesus didn’t hold down a full-time job: in fact, he relied on the charity of others. He didn’t marry or raise children. And his life work was done in his early thirties, so he gives us precisely no example for what is more than half a normal lifespan.

The early church, however, did generally seek regular employment, get married, raise kids and lead full lives. They knew that Jesus was their example in some key ways and not in others. We have to make similar distinctions – between our generic humanity (about which Jesus’ life can show us much) and our particular vocations (which in some ways extend Jesus’ own, and in most respects vary greatly from his). So the “Christian” part of “Christian anarchism” is actually a complex interpretative question that cannot be resolved by “just” following whatever Jesus said or did.

Second, living like Jesus doesn’t get done what Jesus wants done – not in every respect. For Jesus wants what God wants, and God’s first commandment in the Bible is to make shalom – to take the good world that God has made and to cultivate it, to make something of it, to encounter every situation and try to make it better. Note: God’s commandment is not to “stay pure,” a kind of double negative that is typical of a lot of Christian ethics: “Don’t sin!” “Don’t get implicated in anything compromising!” “Don’t commit violence!” God’s commandment, then and now, is a positive one: cultivate. Make things better. It’s not enough to say, “See, Lord? I kept the talent you gave me and didn’t lose a penny of it. My record is unbesmirched by moral compromise. I didn’t get much done, sure, but I didn’t come even close to risking my purity.”

Now some Christian anarchists would properly retort that it is jolly good trying to get things done, but better to do so “the Jesus way.” They can eat their ethical cake and have it, too. So does Christian anarchism bode to make things better? I don’t think so. Probably eastern Spain, around Barcelona, during the early twentieth century is the best case of anarchism actually being practised in a sustained way by a significant number of people. That’s pretty much it, though, for a “tried and succeeded” list. Dorothy Day? Leo Tolstoy? Noam Chomsky? Sure, they have brought light into various patches of darkness (although Day, in my view, a lot more than Tolstoy and Chomsky). But that extremely small-scale influence is supposed to be the guiding ethic of the global church? There isn’t much hope there to believe that Christian anarchism will in fact bring shalom to the world. And since I think Christians ought to pay attention to everything we know, and not just some favourite Bible verses, the pathetic record of actual anarchist movements deserves a serious look. If we want to make shalom in the form of positive social change, then we ought to look at how positive social change has come about. Has anarchism a strong record? Not so far as I can tell.

But on explicitly Christian grounds also, I don’t think anarchism makes sense. It doesn’t take seriously enough the sin in human hearts, including (and perhaps especially) in the hearts of us Christians – yes, even we evangelicals who feel so superior to those other mindless, soulless Christians who have so obviously departed from the lucid counsels we teach each other. If we take away the structures, will a thousand flowers really bloom? And then another generation? And another? Or is the kingdom of heaven more like a mixed field, or even more like an arena of moral struggle to which the Holy Spirit devotes considerable energy to restrain evil through fallen, corrupt and yet also somewhat effective institutions such as government and its sword of military, police and judicial forces?

I want to grant freely that I might be wrong. Maybe I’m just a sadly compromised, luxury-loving, unimaginative, burned-out middle-ager. Maybe, in fact, blowing shit up – or (nonviolently) letting shit happen – might be all that’s necessary to let everybody just get on with their native creativity and co-operation.

But show me where that’s worked and what’s been the result. The Berrigans? Martin Luther King Jr? Mahatma Gandhi? Bore into the history of those times even a little and you’ll see that a lot of political realism executed with dirty, even bloody, hands made the crucial difference. The antiwar movement didn’t win a thing: the Viet Cong did. MLK is indubitably inspiring, but without Stokely Carmichael to his violent left and Lyndon Johnson to his ruthless right, he was getting nowhere. And Gandhi could teach us all a thing or two about media events, hard-nosed negotiation and economic pressure.

Perhaps, instead, we need to work at removing what shit we can, detoxifying or containing the shit that remains and working to improve what isn’t shitty in the world – as much is not – so that shalom is maximized. We will get dirty in the process, but that’s what’s required.

What I’d love to see is all this Christian anarchist passion, critique, activism and creativity directed strategically to particular issues and institutions where it will be received positively, where it will actually do some good. If in any particular circumstance revolution is truly possible, then groovy; I’ll join you at the barricades. But history shows that revolution mostly isn’t: not truly peace-full revolution. And history bears few, too few, examples of patient non-violence actually stemming violence and producing lasting, significant social change. So I hope you’ll understand if I don’t risk the lives of myself and others for a hermeneutic that I think is simplistic and a political philosophy I find to be dangerously idealistic. Too much is at stake.

Anarchism, to me, amounts to an expectation of miracles: political, economic, sociological, psychological and spiritual miracles. It isn’t the way the world normally works. I believe in miracles and I love the idea of them, but scripture and church history suggest to me that we are not to replace our daily duties of shalom-making with hopes that God will specially intervene to do all the tough stuff for us. Instead, I think we’re supposed to garden – and gardening, as we all know, means getting your hands dirty, doing the best with what you’ve got, doing violence to pests, dealing realistically with the constraints and opportunities of the situation and taking the long view – with hope of a good harvest to share.

There, now. Wasn’t that refreshing?

John G. Stackhouse Jr. holds the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. To resist the hold of the academic hierarchy in which he enjoys a lofty perch, he drives home every evening to his family. There, the mighty are brought low.

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  1. Jesse Pals
    Vancouver
    December 1st, 2012
    6:08pm

    A very real discursive on the pie in the sky, anarchism with a conscience.
    Elucidating and enjoyable, I’ll be sure to pass this on!

  2. Jamie Arpin-Ricci
    Winnipeg
    December 2nd, 2012
    10:04am

    While this might be a good critique of what many misguided people play at as anarchism, but this does not speak of Christian anarchism as I know it. Further, the pragmatism with which many of the examples cited are measured was dismissive and off the mark. This was a very disappointing read for me.

  3. Jarrod McKenna
    Australia
    December 2nd, 2012
    2:57pm

    brother, you must have enjoyed that.

    I’m interested in hearing your “hands dirty” alternative. Because for one that rightly has a go at self-righteousness, it would be fruitful for you to articulate your working alternative. I think true (and maybe even godly?) humility is expressed by living into a working alternative, aware of our brokeness and open to the correction of others. Can we look forward to another article on your form of Christian socialism? Is that where you are coming from? That would be really helpful and we’d have something to talk about. Or are you coming from a form of evangelical Calvinism that marries itself to an organic conservative political ideology? Could you articulate that for us so we can have a real conversation?

    Without it, not only cant we have a conversation about where we differ, we can find the points of connection where we can work together. Because as you rightly identified, “Too much is at stake.”

    The refreshing cold water I’m interested in is the waters of baptism… and the life that flows from those waters. So please, what’s your take? Because all I could tell from this article is that you enjoy making fun of some forms of Christian anarchism.

    Grace and peace,
    Jarrod

    PS it sounds like you should do a permaculture workshop re: your approach to “pests”

  4. Keith
    Mansfield, UK
    December 2nd, 2012
    4:25pm

    The Christian anarchism described doesn’t sound like the mature, nuanced and practical working out of faith that I’ve discovered in four Christian anarchist conferences and many events, conversations and articles. It’s easy – and pointless – to knock down a fictitious ‘type’ and ever so smug and unhelpful. Geez publishes great articles but this really isn’t one of them.

  5. John Stackhouse
    Canada
    December 2nd, 2012
    11:54pm

    Brother Jarrod, I have set out my views indeed and at considerable length in “Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World” (Oxford University Press, 2008). I argue for an evangelical view of Christian realism by way of C. S. Lewis, Reinhold Niebuhr, David Martin, and especially Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I am neither a socialist nor an American Republican, but I am a Canadian Christian whose politics are independent and pragmatic: I aim to work with God and other people to produce the most shalom we can in a given situation.

    Brother Keith, I’m glad you’ve had a much better experience than I have had. But I’m not writing about “fictitious” anarchists, as I’ve noted. I have a long experience and acquaintance with anarchism, Christian and otherwise, and with Anabaptism, anarchist and otherwise. I’m writing in a punchy, “Geez”-y style, but I mean what I say and what I say I can back up with more footnotes than anyone would want to read. That doesn’t mean I’m right about everything, of course, but it would be well if you would not dismiss my argument as simply knocking down a straw man. It isn’t.

  6. Dennis
    Connecticut USA
    December 3rd, 2012
    12:18pm

    I’m not the first to note that we live in a both/and world. I love anabaptist/anarchist purity though I’m United Methodist. It’s what drives me, excites me about Jesus’s way. At the same time, I love Stackhouse’s realism: to “work with God and other people to produce the most shalom we can in a given situation.” That’s what Jesus clearly did. Might say it’s all Jesus did and the excitement hasn’t yet stopped! Challenge for me is to look upon Jesus and Sermon on the Mount, for example, as Neibuhr declared it “the impossible possibility” and decide “why even bother trying.” I did this for a couple of decades, trying not to bother my church folks with every day guilt feelings. Now, I want guilt feelings. I want to do every day what can be done, however messy, but also not lose sight of the essence of doing things God’s way which really can’t be measured in the now. In the mean time, guess I have to settle for wonderful arguments from the both/and.

  7. Ryan
    Vancouver, BC
    December 5th, 2012
    2:58pm

    I appreciate Stackhouse’s argument here. In “radical” political circles, there is often little discussion of sin and the corruptibility of ourselves and our own utopian visions. There is also a sense of judgmentalism and the necessity for moral purity that he has helpfully pointed out. He is also right to point out the necessity of working with others towards the common good.

    At the end of the day, though, I am unsure why one needs the gospel at all. The article is certainly mean-spirited, uncharitable and dismissive (which seems like an odd way to critique such a thing in other people), but perhaps this is done for fun, rhetorical purposes. Mostly, I am left wondering—what distinguishes the gospel from conventional wisdom? Why Christian faith if life is generally a matter of finding the lesser of evils? Do we need the triune God for that? I think we get a clue here when the phrase “the real world” is used. Oddly, we don’t pray as Christians “adapt us to the real world.” Rather, we pray “thy kingdom come.” The image of Christians being “gardeners” (which I like and could be a perfectly appropriate one) ends up sounding more like the voice of Voltaire’s Candide than that of the Good Shepherd. And yes, the gospel should always appear “unrealistic” perhaps until the coming of the kingdom in its fullness because is a continual challenge to all of our beloved ideologies—yes, even the supposed non-ideology of pragmatism. When it doesn’t we are in danger of confusing the kingdom “of this world” with God’s kingdom. In the end, I am unsure why God had to become a human being if history is to go on “as is.”

    Why the need to critique Christian anarchists, then? If what they are doing is ultimately fruitless and delusional, why take the time out of the important business of “real life” to criticize people who are generally living out a vocation of faithfulness to the gospel in their communities? I wonder then if this is just another example of what we in the church always likes to do—engage in the “old quarrel” of who is more faithful and who is not as to justify and prove our own holiness by disproving that of others.

  8. Ric Hudgens
    Evanston, IL
    December 7th, 2012
    2:03pm

    John,

    I wrote a response on my blog yesterday which was just now reposted on Jesus Radicals today:

    http://www.rdhudgens.blogspot.com/2012/12/mocking-anarchist-scarecrow.html

    http://www.jesusradicals.com/mocking-the-anarchist-scarecrow/

    I hope that what you hear from Christian anarchists is a willingness to receive critique and to engage in dialogue.

    Grace and peace,

    Ric

  9. John Stackhouse
    Vancouver
    December 7th, 2012
    10:36pm

    Not so far, Ric. Cumulatively so far, I’m a bad, stupid, lazy, mean-spirited sell-out who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, argues terribly, and wastes everyone’s time with a piece with no theological grounding that offers no constructive way forward.

    You might think that at least some people who are upset with my article would pause before replying and think, “Now, what are the odds that this person is such an utter nincompoop? Is it possible that someone like this might actually be saying something worth attending to carefully that I, in my wounded anger might have had trouble hearing the first time through?”

    Apparently, though, people who are furious with me for being sarcastic and sanctimonious feel entirely free to respond to me with—wait for it—sarcasm and sanctimony. I expected a lot of that: people who think they are radical Jesus followers tend, in my experience, to be extremely unforgiving of anyone who criticizes them. But so far I’m getting mostly agreement or abuse—intellectual abuse (mischaracterizing what I’ve written) or moral (denunciations of my character).

    So here’s hoping that all those who haven’t replied are responding in a more careful way. I’m glad for the personal e-mails I’ve received that are strongly supportive, but I’d be even more interested in hearing from people who actually thought I might have helped them rethink things a bit. The point, after all, was to encourage Christian anarchists to refocus their considerable energies and passions, not to discourage them.

  10. Ric Hudgens
    Evanston, IL
    December 8th, 2012
    9:10am

    It might be helpful to reflect upon why you are not receiving as good of a hearing as you desired. It could be that all of your readers are as you described them in your essay. If that is accurate then there was never much hope that they would hear you anyway. On the other hand it could be that the tone of your essay is being reflected back to you in the same spirit. The result of this of course is that both sides feel mischaracterized and misunderstood and nothing very valuable gets shared.

    I would encourage Christian anarchists to read your books (especially Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World) which do a more fulsome job of setting forth your well-considered views. I would also encourage people to read the other essays in this issue of Geez, look at some of the articles on Jesus Radicals (as well as the Iconocast interviews and the resources under the tabs at the top), and perhaps recognize that there are some really good and important things going on here, as well as people in process, still learning and growing, but also risking as much of themselves as they can for (as my alma mater and yours says) “Christ and the Kingdom”. There is room here for all of us to learn from each other but it may need to reboot with an empty cache. In Christ.

  11. John Stackhouse
    Vancouver
    December 9th, 2012
    8:29pm

    Thanks, Brother Ric, for reminding folks that I didn’t say everything I think about these questions in this little 2-pager for GEEZ—and that I use a quite different tone in that book. My previous reading of GEEZ led me to think that my mock-combative tone in this piece would be welcomed. I (and perhaps the editor who commissioned it and, in my view, helped me improve it) appear to be wrong, in at least some cases. Or maybe not: maybe the editor, as I did, presumed that some people would be adamantly against what I had to say no matter what tone I used.

    Can I make any clearer my conviction that I do NOT think that Christian anarchists are doing nothing good? Can I reassure you and others that small-scale change is, indeed, beautiful and frankly is the scale on which the vast majority of us will ever affect anything? Can I keep readers of my article from thinking I am simply dumping on Christian anarchists, binarily condemning everything they believe, say, and do?

    What I am doing (in a TWO-PAGE RESPONSE) is to indicate that I think the general aspiration of Christian anarchy is fine—it wants to make a positive difference in the world by the light of what it understands to be the gospel—but it is going about this good intention in the wrong way. Christian anarchism, I argue, is not generally the best way to understand the Bible’s directions to us as to following Jesus and doing the will of God. (I say “generally” because I’m honestly open to God calling a minority of people to such radical positions.) I think generally we Christians are called to another mode of life, as C. S. Lewis, Reinhold Niebuhr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and David Martin, among my guiding lights suggest. And that mode I could only briefly sketch in this article in contrast to Christian anarchism while I set it out much more thoroughly indeed in “Making the Best of It.”

    So to anyone whose feelings were hurt by my article, I sincerely apologize. I thought it would be received in the spirit of GEEZ magazine that, in my desultory reading of it through the years, has traded in a fair bit of playful banter, tough teasing, and smart-assery.

    I do think that there are Great Big Issues here, and I wrote a great big book to address them. All I could do here is offer a brotherly punch in the arm and tweak of the nose to say, “Uh, chum, I admire your zeal but I think you’re generally misguided.” Not everybody likes that mode of engagement. I myself trade in it rather infrequently, as readers of even my weblog (a genre not generally known for its politesse) will see, I think. But I engaged in it here hoping it would do some good. I still have that hope, but I appreciate, Ric, your directing us to other materials that will appeal to other people much more.

  12. John Stackhouse
    Vancouver
    December 9th, 2012
    8:42pm

    Oh, and one more thing, not incidentally: The articles featured on the GEEZ website as available online from this issue illustrate quite nicely, I believe, the outlook I critique in my article. So I do NOT think I am knocking over straw people, missing the mark, etc. Readers can judge this for themselves without even buying the whole issue and reading it—although, of course, they should! ; )

  13. Ric Hudgens
    Evanston, IL
    December 10th, 2012
    8:23am

    John, I just want to conclude by clarifying that this was never about “hurt feelings” – nor do I assume that your feelings were hurt by my reply to you. Speaking only for myself (but I suspect echoing sentiments of Jamie, Jarrod, and others) we expected a different quality of interchange from someone like yourself. Anyone who reads Jesus Radicals knows that the dialogue and debate there are not only diverse and contrarian but also occasionally ill mannered, sarcastic, and every once in awhile a little mean-spirited. So Christian anarchists (and certainly pacifists!!) are used to little rough and tumble. It is not a matter of hurt feelings, but as I said in my own reply “disappointment”. We expected better of you. We were disappointed by the air of dismissal and disrespect towards the other contributors of this issue and towards those engaged in these efforts. You have tried to correct that in your rejoinders. Whether you have succeeded can be decided by the readers. Adios.

  14. Mark Van Steenwyk
    Minneapolis
    December 10th, 2012
    11:33am

    “The articles featured on the GEEZ website as available online from this issue illustrate quite nicely, I believe, the outlook I critique in my article.”

    I’d appreciate it if you could spell out, a bit more clearly, the connections between what I’ve articulated in my article and what you are critiquing in yours.

    Look. I’m a 36 year old Christian Anarchist who was, until about a decade ago, much more sympathetic to the sort of approach you’re advocating. I didn’t go off the anarchist deep end until I started seminary and had some time to reflect theologically upon our “post 9/11” world. I went from voting from George W. Bush to forming a worker-style community (mennoniteworker.com) in the span of four years. Currently, I am one of the editors of JesusRadicals.com.

    I say these things only to show that there isn’t a stereotypical way of being an anarchist. And, since it took a good deal of life experience, ministry experience, and education to arrive at my views, the vast majority of engagement I have around these things has been pushback. I can handle critique. And it takes a lot to hurt my feelings.

    I think you’re letting yourself off the hook, Dr. Stackhouse. I have no issue with the witty tone of your article; it actually works quite well. It is in the substance of your article. You say that you aren’t setting up straw-men…but it is very difficult for me to see anything in your descriptions of anarchists besides stereotypes. Most of the negative reactions I’ve seen have been from folks who feel frustrated about being stereotyped and summarily dismissed. Folks like Jarrod and Jamie (I mention them because I know them both fairly well) have put their lives and their livelihoods on the line for their convictions.

    But, perhaps, I am overthinking this. If this was meant more in a jovial spirit—a sort of friendly jibing among a kindred soul, then I missed the cues. Such a tongue-in-cheek critique is certainly valid. But it is hard for me to know exactly where the article is coming from.

  15. John Stackhouse
    Vancouver
    December 11th, 2012
    10:48am

    In this piece, I mount serious arguments in a jocular way. I mount a hermeneutico-ethical argument and then a historical-pragmatic argument, neither of which have been engaged directly, let alone effectively, by Brother Ric in his blog piece (or by anyone else so far). Ric instead spends most of his article misconstruing what I’m saying as merely ad hominem and demonstrating how upset he is with me by repeatedly insulting my motives and my work. I suggest that this behavior does not earn him the high moral or intellectual ground from which he purports to judge my tone or my reasoning.

    Brother Mark’s piece in GEEZ demonstrates well the simplistic theology and unrealistic ideology of Christian anarchism in, among other things, its resistance to all hierarchies. Hierarchies can sometimes be bad, yes, but also sometimes good. A categorical resistance to them flies in the face of the relationship God has with us creatures, we humans have with the rest of creation (so Genesis 1 & 2), parents have with children, elders have with congregants, and so on, and so on. And it flies in the face of basic organizational behaviour through history: hierarchy-less groups have no significant record, so far as I know, of producing significant social change for the better.

    I have not “dismissed” anyone, let alone waved them away with a contemptuous little “Adios.” I have actually argued, rather than merely asserted. And most, if not all, of the response I’ve gotten so far from anarchists is assertion: “I don’t recognize myself in this” or “You seem mean-spirited” or “We don’t think that way” or “We already agree with that but we say something better.” Assertion isn’t argument. And pretending you’re not feeling wounded when you can’t help but sneer betrays the lack of self-awareness that makes Christian anarchism just look juvenile: simplistic in its ideas and reflexive in its response to criticism.

    I am upset. I expected some hotheaded response: In my experience, pacifists can be as vituperative as anyone else when challenged. But I had hopes that pastors and authors and leaders in this movement might be willing to actually argue back: to show that their hermeneutic actually isn’t Marcionite and really does value, say, the Old Testament as the Word of God; to show that their movement has in fact brought shalom into the world in a way so powerful that others ought to drop what they’re doing and join up; or in some other way mount a substantive response.

    Until actual argument appears, then, I can’t see why it makes sense to continue this engagement. It’s just making me mad and (despite their protestations to the contrary) evidently just ticking off others as well. THAT is, truly, “disappointing.”

  16. Mark Van Steenwyk
    Minneapolis
    December 11th, 2012
    11:47am

    You call it simplistic and call me juvenile. It is hard to feel confident about having an argument with someone who hurls such things. I prefer my arguments to be calm and respectful. When I overstate things and belittle others and they call me on it, I usually apologize before trying to continue the argument. You haven’t done that. Nevertheless, for the sake of the larger issues at play, I’m going to move on and address your points.

    Specifically, I want to focus on two points: 1) that anarchism doesn’t take human sin seriously and 2) that “And living just like Jesus doesn’t get done what Jesus wants done.”

    Since most anarchists I know are anti-capitalist, I think anarchists take sin VERY seriously. The idea that the few can rule the many seems to assume that the few can be trusted with that level of power. I don’t believe anarchism is about everyone doing whatever they want and being trusted to do so for the good of all. Anarchism is actually the government of everyone—full democracy whereby decisions require (as much as possible) consensus and that land is held in common.

    Late 19th century /Early 20th century German Gustav Landauer was a respected socialist anarchist. He was convinced that, when revolution came, the people wouldn’t be able to rule themselves effectively without first learning a new way of living. He advocated a combination of small urban communities that practiced consensus and a return to the land whereby people learned to live in harmony with the land. He also believed that everyone should embrace long seasons of silent meditation in their schedules.

    Landauer isn’t alone is assuming that the internalized qualities of dominantion have left their imprint. Most anarchists I know embrace a high standard for doing “self work”—trying to uncover the tendencies towards oppression in their hearts. They also put a lot of emphasis on group processing and consensus. In my experience, these things have done far more for the sin in my own heart than the structures in our society.

    Secondly, I think there is a core theological difference here in what the disciples’ response to Jesus should be. I believe that one “learns Christ” by doing likewise. This seems to be a large part of his ministry with the 12 and I can see no theological reason for assuming that Jesus would want me to live in a different way to accomplish his goals. The medium is the message—how we live if how we want the world to be. Could you explain a bit why Jesus’ goals for us would require us to live in a way that is different than the way of life set by Jesus?

  17. Andy A-B
    United States
    December 11th, 2012
    2:13pm

    John Howard Yoder was not an anarchist. I’ve edited several of his books already, and more on the way. He never used that term for himself. Sometimes he would use the word “socialist” though. Neither were Rouseau or Thomas More anarchists.

  18. Andy A-B
    United States
    December 11th, 2012
    2:18pm

    “ to show that their hermeneutic actually isn’t Marcionite and really does value, say, the Old Testament as the Word of God; “

    I thought you had read Jacques Ellul? Have you seen his numerous commentaries on Old Testament literature? Reason for Being, is on Ecclesiastes; the Judgment of Jonah; The Politics of God and the Politics of Man is on 2 Kings; the Meaning of the City is half about the OT. And then there is his reading of the Old Testament in his book Anarchy and Christianity.

    I’ve never heard Jacques Ellul called “Marcionite” and he woudl not have accepted that label, nor would any Ellul scholar accept it of him (I’m on the board of the International Jacques Ellul Society).

    I don’t get the charge. I am not sure who it is leveled at in particular. You are making some sweeping generalizations and mischaracterizing various people.

  19. Andrew Mandell
    December 13th, 2012
    9:53am

    Dear Mr Stackhouse,
    You can hint at herme-nautical hysterical-ethic secret underpinnings for this piece all day long but it remains a lukewarm dishrag let down, baby. I am not a Christian. Maybe this sort of appeal is why. But I have been a fellow traveler with some of these folks and your way off the mark here.
    And not on just on the Jesus Radicals. You are so far off on Ellul it does make one wonder how much of his work you have actually read. And seeing as he is long dead I thought it would be poor manners not to speak up for his nuanced body of work backed by years in the resistance, french government, community and activism. I would suggest anyone interested maybe take a spin through a book of his like What I Believe before equating his thought with any of Mr. Stackhouse’s strawdogs barking up above.
    The pragmatic dismissal of anarchism ignores the inbreeding of ideas, the lack of actual compartments for human action, and willfully blinds itself to the part played by anarchist principles throughout human history and in common everyday approach to social decency and even family. Where does anarchism’s success record end and the State’s begin? What about movements like the Zapatistas, the role of anarchist thought in much of the American struggle for labor and civil rights? You seem to take the record of extermination of any decentralized forms of resistance as evidence against our principles rather that simply the history of the monopolization of the means of force by the status quo.
    You conflate pacifism with anarchism and worst of all, you simply bored me. How anyone can write something so dull and complacent at this point in our history, with so many species and lifestyles on verge of collapse is a real accomplishment.
    Regarding your decision to avoid any commitments that appear hopeless before the daunting track record of the State I admit, here you keep the faith and uphold the tradition. At another time Camus writing about a great unequal battle appealed to the church for help. He didn’t have much hope in their response but he did recognize individual believers who like many among the Jesus Radicals were beautiful souls that would honor any resistance movement with their honest self criticism and their commitment to being neither victims nor executioners. To the rest he said this regarding the call for the Church to risk their comfort.

    “It may be, I am well aware, that Christianity will answer negatively. Oh, not by your mouths, I am convinced. But it may be, and this is even more probable, that Christianity will insist on maintaining a compromise or else on giving its condemnations the obscure form of the encyclical. Possibly it will insist on losing once and for all the virtue of revolt and indignation that belonged to it long ago. In that case Christians will live and Christianity will die. In that case the others will in fact pay for the sacrifice. In any case such a future is not within my province to decide, despite all the hope and anguish it awakens in me. And what I know – which sometimes creates a deep longing in me – is that if Christians made up their minds to it, millions of voices – millions, I say – throughout the world would be added to the appeal of a handful of isolated individuals who, without any sort of affiliation, today intercede almost everywhere and ceaselessly for children and for men.”

    Forgive the gender exclusive nature of the quote. Things progress and today we know that it is all species entwined that are in danger and that there will be no one sitting out the consequences for long.

    I realize you invite a more thorough response. And I am just rambling for a minute before work. My own experience is that people who revel in applying cold water to the ideas of others seldom actually enjoy the favor returned but you may very well be honestly seeking a return. If so, I am sure the buckets are already being filled. But the article and your responses so far don’t have me holding my breath.

  20. James Strickler
    Eugene, OR
    December 21st, 2012
    5:12pm

    I found you thoughts refreshing and delightful. I think our thoughts are somewhat similar. However, I guess you can call me an apathetic anarchist. I’m not apathetic regarding the committed life anarchy requires, but I’m apathetic regarding how the label is usually thought. I’m certainly influenced by Ellul, but I’m also influenced by Eller. He suggests that the prefix “an” (can mean either no or not) in Christian Anarchy be translated as not rather than no. I find that interpretation to be decisive as it means not the ways of these archies (the ways of the dominant cultures). Rather it refers to the archy (Jesus is an archy, see at least John 1:1-4, and the Seputigint version of Gen 1:1) that is the alternative to the ways they go about life. So I refer to myself as one of the secession of the Lamb. Secession movements may seem like anarchy to those from whom one is succeeding, but session movements are not from one archhy to no archy (an impossibility). Rather they are a movement from one archy to another, or as the other’s alternative (the arche of Jesus is not like the dominant culture’s archies. Rather its way is the alternative to their ways). This is at best embodied impartially, but the embodiment must at least be impartial. This Advent season brings to mind that we wait for the fullness of the Kingdom to come with Jesus, and to live in a way that embodies Jesus’ end (a means and an end that is only enabled by Jesus) seems to me to be the best way to live into Jesus’ end. So I find your thoughts about establishing God’s shalom in the midst of the dominant culture’s archies refreshingly similar.

  21. James Strickler
    Eugene, OR
    December 27th, 2012
    1:41pm

    I got a chance to read your article again. I still think it was delightful (perhaps because I appreciate the tongue-in-cheek stereo typing), but I was also taken back by your comments about Ellul. I agree with Andy, and wonder how much Ellul you’ve read (though I take you at your word that you have).
    I also still appreciate your comments about shalom. But it also seems to me that that is what the Christian Anarchists I know do. Your shalom comments also seem to call your comments about, “living just like Jesus doesn’t get what Jesus wants done,” into question. Though there’s no question regarding the simplistic observations that Jesus was “unemployed”, that he was single, and had no property. But if we move on to the more substantial things like how we live – then your comments are indeed questionable.
    I do appreciate your later comment concerning the hierarchies as having a ratio that flows between the good and the bad. But I must also add that I think Ellul would agree.

  22. John R
    London ON
    December 31st, 2012
    3:17pm

    Due to the limitations of the iPhone I’ll just chime in as this is a topic I am very interested in. I appreciate your effort here and I am impressed with the apparent study you have engaged in. I respectfully submit though, that albeit not a necessarily straw man argument, it seems anachronistic to me. Perhaps not my most complete thought or expression of my thoughts. I would categorize myself as a Christian anarchist. I believe my thought process to be entirely biblically based in a conservative Presbyterian and evangelical framework. As a Calvinist, I agree regarding mans depravity. This is precisely the reason not to have centralized political power. This is the same view of de-centealizing of power in the church. A plurality of elders who are accountable to men of Godly judgment. These elders who rule by serving and not Lording over a people who are voluntarily submitted to scripture. The status quo in the church is an idolatrous worship of the state. The earthly messiah of government. I think the lack of scriptural specifics lost me in this article. The ‘shalom’ is what exactly? Is there a reference? I may or may not agree but it isn’t something I buy into. I’m not a pacifist. I believe in the non agression principle. I’m not a socialist, I’m a full blown free market capitalist. I’m far from a baptist or anabaptist.
    What I see from scripture is that from Genesis, man is the fallen and subsequently redeemed image of God on earth, charged with the creation mandate to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth and so on. The evangelical mandate enables man through the Spirit to do just that.
    The next thing I see from scripture is that even the covenant people ask for a king to Gods heeded warning that the king will be an oppressor and tax beyond even the tithe. As bible history shows, the king turned their silver to dross. How much more contemporary can that apply? The people and the kings turned away from the Creator. Look at ‘our’ Conservative government. One is forced through extortion and violence to support all kinds of evils. Abortion, war and murder, theft, and a whole host of iniquity. Where is the voice of the church? In my circles – predominantly of baptist conviction – there are very few who are effectively voicing a biblical opposition to the broad horrors of our society; many of these being at the hand of the state. I know of no other contemporary Christian Anarchist. I follow economist and anarcho capitalist, Robert Murphy, but I know nothing if his spiritual convictions. I follow Dr Gary North, another renowned economist and theologian. Beyond that, there are many catholic libertarian/anarchists like Lew Rockwell or Thomas Woods, but I doubt I share many of their religious convictions or doctrine.
    As iron sharpens iron, I hope to be a part of a gracious ongoing discussion through which we can all grow closer to a thoroughly biblical worldview and subsequently to a profitable doctrine of politics and economics. I stumbled on this article through a link to a link to a link so I admit I will need to dig deeper into your aforementioned websites etc.

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Issue 28, Winter 2012

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