Because peace is relational, it can be argued that there is no good news of God apart from living the truth in community (1 John 1:7). This may seem like an overstatement, but I believe our lenses have been significantly affected by our post-Constantinian world view, as well as by theologians such as Luther who have stressed God’s grace—which is amazing, to be sure—to such an extent that radical discipleship centered on Jesus and his values of peace and justice has been neglected (1). Here are two examples of how we selectively read the Bible and God’s priorities. We commonly emphasize these two passages:
NT (Eph 2:8-9): For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.
HS (Is 1:18): “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
However, we tend to ignore the adjacent verses:
NT (Eph 2:10): For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
HS (Is. 1:17): Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
When we read Jesus’ inaugural address, we see that justice, oppression and the spirit of the jubilee were central to what he was doing in proclaiming his kingdom. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
Even the Magnificat or Mary’s Song rings with these themes (Luke 1:46-55), as does Jesus’ later verification of his ministry to doubting and troubled John (Matt. 11:4-5). And we remember that John prepared people to meet Jesus by focusing on ethics when he could have just as easily highlighted the scriptures that were later considered by the early church to be prophecies pointing to Jesus (Luke 3). I believe this is important for the Seventh-day church because we focus greatly on the 3 Angels’ Message while tending to neglect the ethical message of Is. 58. White instructed us, “The wholeof the fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah is to be regarded as a message for this time, to be given over and over again” (Ministry of Healing, p. 29, emphasis added).
This leads my thoughts in two directions. First, this emphasis on justice (again, integral to peace) is consistent with Jer. 9:24 and 22:16, where doing justice is tantamount to knowing the God who exercises justice. This connection between (a) knowing that God works for justice and (b) us doing justice makes sense when we remember that as the church we are Christ’s body on earth (1 Cor. 12:27). We are to do his work, to be about our Father’s business.
Second, Jesus was clear about how citizens of his kingdom should live. How does Jesus end both the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7; Stassen’s triads, see also Kingdom Ethics) and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-41)? With the comparison of the wise and foolish builders. He meant action, not abstract ethics for a perfect world that will never exist this side of the resurrection and 2nd coming. He asks, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). This fits with Matt. 7:21-23 about doing God’s will. James echoes this (1:22); little wonder that Luther did not appreciate James. I believe all of this is consistent with Abraham’s original call to teach righteousness and justice (Gen. 18:19).
The summation of righteousness, justice, compassion, reconciliation, fellowship, and love is peace. This is (my current understanding of) peace theology. This overview should have included sections on empire, nonviolence, and the environment; they will have to wait. And any theology must take into account complex teachings (e.g., Luke 12:51), but that would expand this significantly. I don’t mean this to be exhaustive.
For more on peace theology and action, I highly recommend starting with the following list of books. Notably, all are by Mennonites/Anabaptists, but others like Stassen, Wink, Hauerwas, Brueggemann, Grassi, Arnold, and Rose/Kaiser/Klein should be on the list as well.
1. Notable quotes in this regard: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” –Ghandi "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried." –G. K. Chesterton