J. Denny Weaver is an Anabaptist/Mennonite theologian who is best known for his book “The Nonviolent Atonement” (2001; 2nd ed., 2011).
Dr. Weaver is coming to Kansas City as part of a book tour related to his new book, “The Nonviolent God” (2013). I am currently reading that book as well as co-leading a Sunday School class discussing it at Rainbow Mennonite Church.
Weaver was born in Kansas City, Kan., in 1941, and has ties to Rainbow (in KCKS) where he will be speaking on March 30. He will also be speaking at Central Baptist Theological Seminary on March 31. I am looking forward to hearing his talks.
Now Professor Emeritus at Bluffton University (in Ohio) where he taught for 31 years, Weaver is also the author of books about the Anabaptists, such as “Becoming Anabaptist: The Origin and Significance of Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism” (1987; 2nd ed., 2005).
Before I really knew anything about Weaver, I mentioned what he had written about the Atonement being “divine child abuse,” as some feminist theologians describe traditional views concerning the significance of Jesus’ crucifixion. (See my “Limits of Liberalism,” pp. 196-199).
Traditional views of the atonement are severely critiqued by Weaver, who is sympathetic with the feminist theologians’ point just mentioned, as well as with James Cone who has “linked substitutionary atonement specifically to defenses of slavery and colonial oppression” (“Nonviolent Atonement,” p. 66).
Whereas “The Nonviolent Atonement” is primarily a rejection of the traditional views of the Atonement, especially the penal substitution theory that has been predominant among Protestants, “The Nonviolent God” expands that idea to include the theology of the nature of God.
On the second page of the latter, Weaver clearly states, “That God should be understood with nonviolent images constitutes the major thesis of this book.”
That thesis is based on this premise: “If God is revealed in Jesus, as Christian faith professes, then God should be considered nonviolent as a reflection of the nonviolence of Jesus” (p. 125).
Thus, “if God (or the character of God) is revealed in Jesus, the violent and nonviolent images of God cannot be reconciled” (p. 135). There are, to be sure, violent images of God in the Old Testament and even in the parables of Jesus.
But Weaver argues that there are more and stronger images of God as nonviolent and that those should be constitutive of a theological understanding of God and of the Christian life.
The emphasis on nonviolent atonement and a nonviolent God is consistent with a central conviction of Anabaptists/Mennonites such as Weaver.
Nonviolence, often referred to as pacifism, has been a dominant characteristic of most Anabaptists since the heyday of Menno Simons (1496-1561) and is entrenched in most Mennonite churches to this day.
As one who has long identified with that tradition, and who is now a member of a Mennonite church, Weaver’s arguments strongly resonate with me, even though I don’t necessarily agree with every point.
Thus, I can emphatically say that I am glad we in the U.S. have such a “weak” President. (With regard to the critical situations in Iran, in Syria, and now in Ukraine, how many times have I heard the President criticized by his political enemies for being weak!)
But if the President were “stronger,” and thus more inclined to use military might rather than nonviolent ways to deal with international disputes, our country could well be fighting right now in Iran and Syria and perhaps in Ukraine soon.
Since God is nonviolent, though, those who truly believe in God should always seek to be nonviolent too.