A book for times like these
THE ROBE OF GOD: RECONCILIATION, THE BELIEVERS CHURCH ESSENTIAL
Myron S. Augsburger
Scottdale, Pa. & Waterloo, Ont.: Herald Press, 2000.
Paper. 262 pp. $22.29.
This is a book for times like these. In the aftermath of September 11, to speak of reconciliation as “the biblical essential” (the title of chapter 1) will either call us to renew our efforts to build bridges between peoples, or will sound like foolish or, at best, impractical idealism.
Augsburger’s book is a combination of biblical-theological reflection and practical exhortation. He wants to do three things: to present the theological perspectives of the Anabaptist tradition to the larger theological community, reflect on Scripture in the light of the global realities in which we live, and remind the believers church movement of the heart of its own convictions. At its heart, this book is a call for an alternative Christian way that bears witness in word and deed to the reconciling reality of Christ. Augsburger offers a clear call for the unity of kingdom vision and practical mission, of peacemaking and evangelism, of piety and social responsibility.
The book’s 12 chapters run through a wide range of theological topics, beginning with the biblical view of reconciliation as the heart of God’s good news. The following chapters focus the discussion on Christ as reconciler and on God as sovereign who calls us to participate in the kingdom of justice and peace. The relational dimensions of reconciliation are expressed in forgiveness that is embodied in a community of reconciled people. The life-direction of this “third way” is shaped by discipleship that is empowered by the Spirit. This community of the Spirit, freed from the power of evil, moves into the world in mission both to declare that reconciliation is possible and to practice overcoming evil with good.
Augsburger invites us to flesh out the good news of reconciliation in a world engulfed in a spiral of violence. Unfortunately, the book continues to foster some stereotypes-the most difficult of which are of Judaism and Islam, which “sometimes appear to act as religions of violence” (28). Discerning readers will recall that Christianity has sometimes appeared that way as well. Yet Augsburger minces no words when he juxtaposes the call for evangelism alongside the rejection of “the idolatry of any nationalism” (123). There will be those for whom Augsburger’s vision of God’s reconciling work is too much, when, for example, he writes, “Forgiveness is the innocent one accepting one’s own wrath at the sin of another and smothering that indignation in love” (102).
And so what of September 11? Augsburger is not “calling the state to be pacifist” He advocates, however, that the state ought “to seek justice for all people alike, and work through humane negotiation rather than brute force” (172). Augsburger claims that the church exists to confirm that such a way of life is possible. But to smother the indignation of September 11 in love seems to be a bold metaphor and a faint hope in times like these. Perhaps it is the only hope we have.
—Gordon Matties is associate professor of biblical studies & theology at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg.