Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 09/30/2009 by Bob Kellemen.
Recommended. Sure to be a controversial book on modern political theory (in particular "just war" theory) from a biblical perspective.
At the ripe young age of twenty-eight, Aaron Taylor was invited by film-maker Stephen Marshall to participate in a feature-length documentary about Muslim-Christian perspectives and relationships. As a result, Taylor spent two full days with Khalid, a radical Muslim jihadist. The conversation radically altered Taylor’s view of the Bible, political power, and war.
Specifically, Khalid challenged Taylor to articulate how he would implement the Bible from a governmental point of view. As Taylor pondered that question, he realized that much of what he had been taught "as a late Gen-X Christian born and raised in the charismatic movement" didn’t fit a biblical theology of church and state.
He "always assumed that society would be better off if more Christians would seize the reigns of political power and restore godly values through righteous legislation. After I met Khalid and discovered the end result of an ideology bent on world domination by holy writ, I began to rethink this assumption. I realized that had Jesus wanted to seize the reigns of political power to establish a just society, He certainly could have."
After much research of Scripture, Taylor concluded that Jesus eschewed, and would have his followers, eschew worldly political power. "A careful study of the New Testament reveals there are two types of kingdoms available to mankind—and only two. The Kingdom of God always looks like Jesus and operates from the basis of power through redemptive love and the kingdoms of this world operate from the basis of power-through-the-sword. The Kingdom of God always comes under people to serve them. The kingdoms of this world always rule over people to subdue them."
That much, few would disagree with. However, it is in the implications and out-workings where Taylor is sure to make enemies among the "Christian Right." Much of the debate will center around Taylor’s interpretation of the context of Romans 13:1-4. Taylor summarizes the traditional view, then attempts to debunk it.
"The Apostle says that the rulers of this world don’t bear the sword in vain; therefore a Christian can wield the power of the sword as long as a legitimate authority sanctions it. The logic seems perfectly sound…that is…until you read the verses in context and discover that Paul wasn’t writing to the government of his day; he was writing to Christians, and Paul’s underlying assumption is that Christians are the ones being governed, not the ones doing the governing."
Taylor goes on to state that from verses like Romans 13:14, 17, 19-21, that Christians are not to avenge themselves. Of course, commentators and proponents of just war will be quick to counter that Taylor may be mixing application here—from individual responsibility and responses to aggression to governmental responsibility and responses to aggression. This is actually quite vital to his argument and does not seem to be dealt with deeply enough.
In his defense, Taylor does hold this conclusion with modesty. "While it’s true that the Apostle grants the State the right to bear the sword, it doesn’t necessarily follow from this passage that a Christian has the right to bear the sword in the name of the State, so the least that we can say is the Apostle is silent on this issue" (some would say he is decidedly not silent and quite clear on this issue).
Another issue that Taylor highlights is Christian nationalism. "I believe that for too long the word 'evangelical' has been synonymous with hyper-nationalism." Here Taylor is rather cut-and-dry. "The Bible when understood in its entirety is an anti-war, anti-nationalism document.”
Taylor amusingly illustrates his point with the imaginary "Sweet Sister Sally." She is harmless as a dove when it comes to loving sinners, but clearly she’s a hawk when it comes to war. She says that the difference between Jesus and Muhammad is that Jesus was a man of peace and Muhammad a man of war. Yet she believes that Jesus sanctions holy war against the enemies of democracy.
Taylor concludes that no nation has the authority to invade another nation, even if the purpose is promoting "freedom" and "democracy." He further remains unconvinced that it’s the proper place for a Christian to bear the sword even in extreme circumstances.
I’m not convinced by all of Taylor’s theological and exegetical conclusions. He addresses issues that have been debated for over 2,000 years, and no one book is going to settle the matter for thinking Christians. I will say this, whether you agree or disagree, Taylor does make the debate about biblical interpretation and not about political persuasion. In other words, he does not write as a "raving liberal," but as a concerned Christian truly trying to think through the implications of Jesus’ teaching on the role of government and warfare, the role of the Christian and the sword, and the relationship of the church and state.
Taylor has made me think…and re-think some long-held and cherished political perspectives. Just as Khalid started a new thought process for Taylor, Taylor has started a new thought process for me. He has not so much changed my mind as he has opened my mind to take a second look. I believe that he’ll do the same for most readers who approach Alone with a Jihadist with an open mind…and an open Bible.