Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Volf is aware of the age-old dilemma of Christian nonviolence: how to forgive, accept, and reconcile without becoming passive victims, sheep easily preyed on by wolves. For Christians to adopt an attitude of complete nonresistance to adversaries would have meant that Christianity would no longer exist as a practical organism operating in the world and that evil would be allowed to prevail. Volf is a pacifist, but he recognizes that under some circumstances, a militant resistance against evil is not only appropriate but also necessary.

Nor is Volf sentimental about Christianity. He recognizes that Christianity has strayed from its ideals of embrace and acceptance, especially by the prejudices Christianity has promulgated with respect to Jews, the founding biblical people. Furthermore, though Christ preaches peace in the Gospels, he resorts to imagery of violence and of division between the saved and unsaved. Volf answers this by urging a look at the entire drama of Christ’s incarnation and crucifixion, not just isolated acts of violence or appropriation of language into the rhetoric of violence. Furthermore, the violence of God, as illustrated in the idea of the day of judgment, is of a different order than human violence. According to Volf, God does not endorse one form of human violence as divinely permissible and disallow others; rather he reserves the sole prerogative to manifest violence in any kind of overall plan. Therefore, human violence ultimately infringes on divine prerogative. If we trust in God, realizing that his ultimate motives may well be beyond our understanding, we will learn to renounce violence for ourselves. Christ’s radical embrace of suffering on the cross enacts an opening toward the incomprehensible that can guide even those who feel themselves to have been profoundly wronged in stretching out in forgiveness toward the other.

Some commentators have noted that, though Volf shows how Christ can provide such a model of radical inclusion, he does not show that Christ is necessary to play this role, or that the institutional church, as opposed to the figure of Christ himself, is at all a prerequisite of reconciliation. Volf might reply that he is unfolding a nonexclusive model of Christianity that deliberately reaches out to the other. Though Volf strongly opposes modern rationalism and postmodern relativism, he strives for a mode of Christianity fundamentally biblical yet also in dialogue with the forces at play in the contemporary world.