Friday, May 29, 2015

Pentecost Book Review: Jesus and the Nonviolent Revolution

(With how much I read, I will on occasion do full book reviews in addition to the briefer recommendations like the ones in my previous post.  Here's my latest review. E.A.)

The 20th century French Protestant pastor Rev. Andre Trocme immortalized himself by, like all the other Righteous Among the Nations, putting his life in death's hands in order to save an estimated 2,500 Jewish refugees who had sought safety in Le Chambon.  They survived the Holocaust.  As did he.

Ironically, his courageous and uncompromising stand for life during World War II made it difficult for him to find pastoral work in France, and he eventually ended up pastoring a church in Switzerland, but along the way he authored two books, including Jesus and the Nonviolent Revolution (Plough, 2003).

Trocme is up front with his preface to the book: he is neither a theologian or a Biblical scholar, but merely a humble pastor.  Nevertheless, he makes a forceful case for the Jesus Movement as depicted in the Gospels and Acts as a genuinely political revolution (for when has a revolution ever been apolitical?  Trocme rightly has little patience for those who argue Jesus was somehow apolitical), rooted firmly in the Jubilee tradition of Old Testament Judaism.

The Jubilee was a natural evolution of the sabbatical year: every seventh year, farms were meant to lie fallow so that the soil could replenish, and slaves were meant to be set free.  The Jubilee year, every seventh seventh year (so, every 49th year), came with it not just these freedoms but also a complete remission of all debts and the returning of all land to its original owners, which was meant to prevent a landed aristocracy from taking over that which was created by and ultimately belonged to God--the land--and using its riches to exploit God's people for yet more riches (in this way, Trocme also acts, perhaps unknowingly, as a powerful antidote to another harmful belief we have begun to tell ourselves: the prosperity gospel notion that God wants us to be wealthy).

Trocme is likewise up front that he is writing this largely as a rebuttal to existential thought, saying it "may sate one with its lucid analyses, which define the problems, but it fails to offer a courageous obedience capable of resolving them.  Such an approach is nothing but a subtle excuse to evade one's responsibilities in the world and is thus characteristic of a period of moral and religious decadence."


As an existential Christian myself, immersed in the theology of Soren Kierkegaard and his theological progeny, that was especially challenging for me to hear.

And yet, Trocme's work does itself overlap immensely with Kierkegaard's existentialism.  To Kierkegaard, laws are not innately just: it is in part why the sphere of faith and its status above the sphere of ethics is necessitated.  Trocme acts, and asks us to act, on the basis of a powerful faith that stands up to and above the unjust laws of a Hitler or a Petain.  And stylistically, Trocme, like Kierkegaard, is hardly systematic, instead using the sheer power of his prose to keep his audience reading as he moves from problem to prescription.  This singular characteristic, along with Trocme's status as a pastor rather than a professor, keeps his words accessible to fellow clergy like me and, I believe, to any layperson interested in learning from his work as well.

That organic ease of writing and reading does not come with it an ease in what is demanded of us: both men are also unyielding to their audiences in their exhortations to wholly and completely follow the risen Christ who promises us life beyond measure and then demands that we seek the same for others.

If, in your own walk with God to achieve that monumental task of seeking life for others, you seek another prophetic voice, picking up Jesus and the Nonviolent Revolution is a worthy addition to your bookshelf.  But consider yourself warned: it will not necessarily make that walk easier for you.  Nor, in all honesty, should it.

Disclaimer: my copy of Jesus and the Nonviolent Revolution came at no charge from the publisher; however, all opinions here are entirely my own.

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