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Farewell Preston Sprinkle: A Review of _Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence_

Author: Preston Sprinkle
Format: Paperback
Publisher: David Cook (2013)
Language: English
Pages: 275
ISBN: 9781434704924


An Overview of Fight

Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence (hearafter, just Fight) opens with a graphic description of a genocide in Mozambique that is reminiscent of the opening chapter of Mere Discipleship by Lee Camp. Only, in Camp's book, the genocide described was in Rwanda. This is a bit of a "shock and awe" technique. Few U.S. Americans, let alone evangelicals, will be bothered to read detailed accounts of such atrocities, yet end up holding strong views on the subject of war. Sprinkle clearly wants to challenge this comfort, and suggest that we should see war for the horrific, dehumanizing, demonic nightmare that it truly is, before we even attempt to construct an ethical position on the subject. I think Sprinkle's instincts here are correct. Far too much writing on violence and war from U.S. evangelicals is written through rose-colored glasses. Sprinkle will expose some of this as well.

After that, Sprinkle spends three chapters examining the nature of warfare in the Old Testament, the violent passages, and puts forward several theories of interpreting them. I think this section is the book's weakest by far, but I'll get to that shortly. Before leaving the Old Testament entirely, Sprinkle adds a chapter about themes in the Hebrew Bible which point to the developing ethic of nonviolence that more fully appears in the New Testament—particularly in the life and teachings of Messiah Jesus. This capstone chapter is titled for the prophecy found in both Isaiah and Micah of the coming Messianic age when "swords will be beaten into plowshares." 

When Sprinkle turns his attention to the New Testament, Fight turns into an outstanding book. With the next four chapters, Sprinkle will cover a lot of ground, but manage to do it in a way that is both scholarly and yet highly accessible. He covers the nonviolent ethic of Jesus, the nature of Jesus's "kingdom," our citizenship in Jesus's kingdom, the nonviolent meaning of Revelation, and more. These chapters alone are well worth the cost of the book. But for added value, the final third of the book includes a survey of the early church fathers' attitudes toward war, militarism, military service, and killing; responses to several common objections to Christian nonviolence; and an imaginative parable that illustrates the type of cruciform discipleship he's been teaching throughout the book. To top it all off, he even throws in an appendix on Just War theories. Truly, Fight is closer to a library of resources on Christian nonviolence than merely a book. I think readers will be thankful.

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Building a Boyd of Straw with Sound Bite Scholarship

1. Historical Setting:

 The Openness of God was published in 19941 and made significant waves in evangelical theological scholarship circles. The view detailed in that book wasn't new; it had been held by many Christian theologians throughout Church history2, but what made the book so significant is that the evangelical theological landscape in the United States had shifted and a new regime was in power: Neo-Calvinists3. These conservative evangelical scholars viewed Open theology as a threat to their new found hegemony, so they sought to discredit and marginalize Open theists. Two of the clearest examples of this were the attempt in 2000 by John Piper to have Greg Boyd ousted from the faculty of Bethel Seminary, the denominational seminary of the Baptist General Conference (now "Converge"), and the 2002 attempt to expel John Sanders and Clark Pinnock from the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS).4 In both cases the complaints were brought by Neo-Calvinists. Another casualty of these Neo-Calvinist inquisitions was Roger Olson, a classical Arminian scholar. He has written candidly about the dishonest and dishonorable ways he was treated by Neo-Calvinists simply for suggesting Open theists were not heretics and that Open theism deserves to be consider a legitimate evangelical position.5 In 2010, Dr. Olson had this to say,
"The controversy has largely died down now.  But there are many stories yet to be told about it.  I believe much of the controversy over open theism among evangelicals was fueled by misinformation, misrepresentation and down right demagoguery.  In many places and at many times open theism and open theists did not receive a fair hearing.  And I know of cases in which evangelical critics knowingly misrepresented open theism in order to create fear of it among the untutored (i.e., people who would never pick up and read a book by an open theist).
As I look back on that decade long controversy now, my heart is heavy for evangelicalism.  I was profoundly disillusioned by the dishonesty and lack of sincerity of many evangelical luminaries who I know read books by open theists and often talked with open theists about their views and nevertheless went public with blatant misrepresentations.  I was also profoundly disillusioned by the heat of the controversy in which some evangelical scholars and leaders hurled accusations and charges against open theists that were completely out of proportion to the amount of time and effort they had spent in dialogue with their fellow evangelicals who either were open theists or sympathized with them."6
The beginning of the decade Olson describes is the setting in which an author with whom I am unfamiliar, named Paul Kjoss Helseth, wrote a critique of Greg Boyd's Open theism for the Journal of the ETS (the very group that would vote to investigate Pinnock and Sanders a year later). There is no doubt Helseth's work helped to fuel the flames of discord that led to the 2002 ETS witch hunt. The claim of the article is that Boyd's Open theism describes and promotes an arbitrary and malevolent conception of God over and against all his own claims to the contrary. The article is titled, "ON DIVINE AMBIVALENCE: OPEN THEISM AND THE PROBLEM OF PARTICULAR EVILS".7 As Dr. Olson so poignantly put it, Helseth's article is filled with "misinformation, misrepresentation and down right demagoguery." In this brief refutation, I will address many of the caricatures and fallacies contained in the article, though an exhaustive reckoning is far beyond the scope of this piece. I'm certain a book-length treatment would scarcely provide space. Instead, I must limit myself to exposing only a portion of the many Man of Straw arguments, logical fallacies, and dirty scholarship tricks this article includes. To start, I will detail many of the foundational errors this article makes.

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Theological Graffiti is a blog written by T. C. Moore @tc_moore ...a Jesus-disciple, husband, father, Associate Pastor @NewCityChurch of Los Angeles, sometimes web designer, writer, and theology geek. For more about me, visit my Personal Website or my Online Profile. Otherwise, enjoy the graffiti.

T. C.

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